SPAG
ISSUE #25 - June 20, 2001

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     .\  \               | |             | o |          | | |
The  |___/ociety for the |_|romotion of  |_|_|dventure  \___|ames.

                         ISSUE #25

           Edited by Paul O'Brian (obrian SP@G colorado.edu)
                       June 20, 2001

           SPAG Website: http://www.sparkynet.com/spag

SPAG #25 is copyright (c) 2001 by Paul O'Brian.
Authors of reviews and articles retain the rights to their contributions.

All email addresses are spamblocked -- replace the name of our magazine
with the traditional 'at' sign. 

ARTICLES IN THIS ISSUE ----------------------------------------------------

The SPAG Interview with Stephen Granade

REVIEWS IN THIS ISSUE -----------------------------------------------------

Busted!
Degeneracy
FailSafe
Guess The Verb
Kaged
Nothing More, Nothing Less
Ralph
So Far
SpeedIF 8: A Freak Accident Leaves Seattle Pantsless
Textfire Golf
Zugzwang

SPECIFICS
=========
Symetry

EDITORIAL------------------------------------------------------------------

Welcome to the twenty-fifth issue of SPAG, marking over seven years of
continuous publication. If this were a comic book, I'd make it a
double-sized issue, and maybe have a guest appearance by Spider-Man.
Since SPAG is instead a collection of freely-submitted reviews, I really
don't have a lot of control over what size it is. And even if Marvel was
willing to lend me one of their properties for the celebration, I think
ol' Spidey would lose a bit in the ASCII format. So instead, I'll mark
the occasion by announcing a couple of new SPAG features, both of which
were brought about by requests and discussion from the rec.*.int-fiction
newsgroups on Usenet.

First off, I'm proud to herald the advent of The SPAG Interview, which
(barring various disasters) will appear in every issue of SPAG
henceforth. Now, SPAG is no stranger to interviews -- our annual
competition issue has featured interviews with highly-ranked comp game
authors for as long as the IF competition has existed. SPAG readers have
always enjoyed these interviews, and lately that sentiment has grown
into a groundswell of enthusiasm for a regular interview feature in
SPAG. Since I'm never one to ignore a groundswell, I've instituted just
such a feature, and we inaugurate the series by talking with Stephen
Granade. Granade has written several acclaimed pieces of IF including
"Losing Your Grip", "Arrival", and "Common Ground"; he's been the Big
Kahuna of the IF Competition for the past two years; he runs the premier
IF web site at http://interactfiction.about.com -- this is a guy who has
given a *lot* to IF. If SPAG had a cover, he'd be on it. I'm pleased
with the interview, and looking forward to talking with other IF
luminaries in the future. I'm also quite open to receiving submissions
for The SPAG Interview, though I'd ask that you query first.

The other new feature I'm starting with this issue is the SPAG New
Releases Shelf, but that won't, technically, be a part of SPAG itself.
Rather, it'll appear on the SPAG web page. This new feature comes as a
result of discussion on the int-fiction newsgroups, where it was argued
that a dependable reference source for recently released games would be
a Good Thing. Regular readers may have noticed how each SPAG's News
section contains such a listing of new games, and Lucian Smith suggested
to me that since I compile that data anyway, maybe I could put it on a
web page. I queried our friendly SPAG Webmaster, Joe DeRouen, and he
said, "Sure!" -- thus was the SPAG New Releases Shelf born. The page
will list all games that have been released in the past 3-6 months, at
least all those that I'm aware of via announcement posts to the
newsgroups. Because of the fundamental instability of these games'
initial locations as they move from the incoming directory to the
archive proper, the page will not feature links to the games, but I
trust that stalwart adventurers such as yourselves will be able to solve
the puzzle of where to download a particular game. If the game is
announced but not on the archive, I'll try to include a URL for it. The
SPAG New Releases Shelf will be updated irregularly, since IF games
(except for competition entries) don't really emerge on any rigorous
schedule -- I'll always include a "last update" date on the page, and
don't panic if your newly released masterpiece doesn't appear on the
page within moments of your announcement. It'll get there!

Meanwhile, all the regular SPAG features like news, scoreboard, and of
course reviews will continue, at least as long as people keep submitting
them! Thanks for sticking with us for the past seven years -- here's to
the next 25 issues!

NEWS ----------------------------------------------------------------------

NEW RELEASES SHELF
To correspond with its web presence, the regular "New Games" section of
SPAG News gets a spiffy new name. The past few months have been a
mini-comp-o-rama, and the new releases reflect this, but there are some
other non-minicomp-related games in there, highlighting lesser-known
development systems like ADRIFT and Alan. (How's that for an
overhyphenated sentence?)
   * LOST by Eric Mayer
   * Degeneracy by Leonard Richardson
   * The Last Sonnet of Marie Antoinette by Emily Short
   * Menagerie by David Good
   * HighlandComp games
   * LOTECHComp games
   * Douglas Adams tribute SpeedIF games
   * Walkthrough-comp games
   * Bugged by Anssi Raisanen

> OOPS
SPAG #24 hadn't been out five minutes when I received notice that it
contained not one, but two aggravating errors. First of all, my claim
that Kaged did not receive any XYZZY nominations was simply flat-out
wrong. It *was* nominated, in the "best NPCs" category. Secondly, the
author of the SmoochieComp entry "Nothing More, Nothing Less" (reviewed
in this issue) is named Gilles Duchesne, not Giles. I apologize for the
mistakes.

SUPERCHUNG
Last issue I mentioned that chungkuo.org has become far and away the
supreme IF telnet site (not that there was a lot of competition for the
title.) Well, the best has become even better, by including all past
issues of SPAG! Yes, you too can telnet to chungkuo.org and read a back
issue of SPAG, then click on the review's link to play the game it
discusses. Granted, this functionality is substantially similar to
what's offered in the Review Index of the SPAG web page, but these are
connected to the issues themselves rather than indexed reviews. Plus,
you can telnet to it. How cool is that? Telnet!

BACK TO AVALON
Every community has its legends, and one of ours centers around a game
called Avalon, later retitled Once and Future. This gigantic TADS game
was announced, then re-announced, then re-re-announced (repeat as
necessary) until it became the unchallenged king of all vaporware IF. In
fact, now authors are cautioned from announcing their games in advance,
lest they "pull an Avalon." It was the Daikatana of text adventures,
except that when it finally did come out, it didn't suck. It was
published by the now-defunct Cascade Mountain Publishing, and SPAG
devoted an entire issue (#16) to it. It was a commercially published
text adventure, and many enjoyed it. Now the game has come full circle,
having been released as freeware on, well, April 1st. But it's no hoax:
Once and Future is now available for free from an IF Archive near you.

IT'S RAINING MINICOMPS
Long, detailed games have been conspicuous by their absence from the IF
scene lately, but a swarm of tiny little games have come in to fill the
vacuum. I don't really have the time or inclination to run down all the
details here, but I'm happy to hit you with a swath of URLs by which you
can chase down the details yourself. Ready? Here goes:
   * IF art show: http://members.aol.com/iffyart/gallery.htm
   * SpeedIFs past and present: http://www.fourcoffees.com/if/speedif
   * HighlandComp: ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/mini-comps/highland/
   * LOTECHcomp: http://www.suite101.com/welcome.cfm/4746
   * Douglas Adams tribute SpeedIF: http://www.fourcoffees.com/dna/
   * Walkthrough Comp: http://emshort.home.mindspring.com/walkthrough2.htm

REVIEW, REVIEW, REVIEW, WHERE ARE YOU? WE NEED SOME HELP FROM YOU NOW...
Okay, so maybe that headline doesn't really work unless you've got the
Scooby-Doo theme song running through your head, but the sentiment is
what's important: SPAG needs reviews! Every three months I acquire
several new gray hairs worrying about whether I'll have enough reviews
to fill a respectably-sized issue. Please save me from a Clairol future
by submitting your reviews for IF games! In case you're wondering what
to review, here's our traditional list of wants:

SPAG 10 MOST WANTED LIST
========================
1. The Adventures of Helpfulman
2. Bugged
3. Dr. Dumont's Wild P.A.R.T.I.
4. Douglas Adams tribute SpeedIF games (any, some, or all!)
5. Dungeon (the mainframe version of Zork)
6. Heroine's Mantle
7. Lost
8. LOTECHcomp games (any, some, or all!)
9. Menagerie
10. Westfront PC

THE SPAG INTERVIEW---------------------------------------------------------

[For this issue, it was my privilege to interview Stephen Granade about
the IF Competition, his games, and his excellent About.com website.
Enjoy. --Paul]

   SPAG: The first question is traditional: Could you tell us a little
   about yourself? Who are you, what do you do for a living, and so
   forth?

SG: I've been interested in interactive fiction for a long time. My dad
bought a TRS-80 Model IV when I was young, and one of the first games I
had for it was a strange little text adventure called House of the Seven
Gables, which had nothing to do with the book of the same name.
Eventually I moved on to Infocom games, by which time I was hooked. A
friend of mine and I worked our way through Hitchhiker's Guide to the
Galaxy, managing to get through the babel fish puzzle in only a handful
of trials. I remember trying to read the microscopic printing on a
circuit board in that game, coming up with various crazy solutions.
("Maybe if I put tea substitute on the board, the drops of liquid might
magnify the print!")

The release of the Lost Treasures of Infocom helped revive my interest
in text adventures, as did my discovery of AGT at about the same time. A
year later, in 1992, I stumbled upon the two int-fiction newsgroups and
TADS and never looked back.

Quite some time ago I moved to Durham, North Carolina to attend Duke
University's physics graduate school. This had the benefit of giving me
both a flexible schedule with plenty of free time and a fast internet
connection on which to squander that free time.

These days I am finally within sight of my PhD. Graduate school is odd
in that you have a long-term plan and short-term goals but cannot make
mid-range plans with any accuracy. I can tell you what I'll be doing for
the rest of the month and be mostly right; I can make an informed guess
as to what I'll be doing in three months; anything further and you might
as well consult a Magic 8-Ball.

After I graduate...well, I'm not sure. "Cannot Predict Now"

   SPAG: Let's talk a little about the competition. This is your third
   year organizing it -- what have you learned during that time?

SG: Be patient and thoughtful. Running the competition involves a fair
amount of responsibility, and it's not something I take lightly. I make
the rules; I can change what I want as I deem necessary. But having that
power doesn't mean I should exercise it willy-nilly.

I've also learned to be content with decisions once I've made them. I
won't be able to please everyone, regardless of what I decide to do.

Overall, the past two competitions have gone smoothly. This has more to
do with the nature of the interactive fiction community than with any
great Comp Cheez skill I possess. The community is very interested in
having the competition go well, and does its best to see that it does
so.

   SPAG: What's the plan for this year's comp? What will be the same,
   what will be different, and most importantly, will there be t-shirts
   again?

SG: It will be mostly the same as in previous years. The only large rule
change I've made is that authors who enter anonymously or under a
pseudonym must reveal their real names at the end of the competition.
And there will be t-shirts, though probably no CDs.

   SPAG: I know that as the organizer you've maintained a pretty
   impartial stance, but you can tell us now: what have been your
   favorite comp games of the past few comps?

SG: Arrival, of course.

No, wait, that's from before I ran things. Being Andrew Plotkin has a
special place in my heart -- when I began receiving games last year I
found myself playing through it based on the title alone, and once I
began I couldn't stop. I enjoyed For a Change, Metamorphosis, The HeBGB
Horror!, and Six Stories a lot.

It's very interesting to see the titles and blurbs of games beforehand.
Authors send that information to me a month or more before the start of
the competition, so I get to imagine what each game will be like based
solely on that advance information. Two years ago, when Andrew Plotkin
sent me the information for "Hunter, in Darkness," including his chosen
pseudonym -- Dave Ahl, Jr. -- I managed to guess correctly that he was
doing an IF version of Wumpus. Such feats of prognostication are rare,
though. Often the games are completely different from what I had
imagined.

   SPAG: As somebody who's written several significant non-comp games,
   but who also organizes the competition, what's your take on the
   argument that competition games get the lion's share of attention and
   that non-comp games are unfairly slighted?

SG: I am ambivalent. Back in 1998, Lucian Smith did a rough-and-ready
analysis of games released from 1994 through 1997 and concluded that
about six large games were released in any given year, and that that
number had not dropped during the years of the competition. But Lucian's
data is now several years old. The number of large games per year hasn't
really increased, and it certainly hasn't kept pace with the growing
author pool.

It's hard to measure how much attention large games get. People mention
them for a while on the newsgroups if you're lucky, but pretty soon the
game has dropped out of sight. Games entered in the yearly competition
are buried under piles of reviews and feedback. Large games take so much
effort to create that it's easy to be disappointed at the potentially
miniscule response. Projects like the Interactive Fiction Review
Conspiracy and the IF Bookclub are trying to put the spotlight on longer
games, but those can only do so much.

What we've seen recently are mini-competitions for small games. The
number of minicomps keeps growing each year, and I worry that between
them and the yearly competition, few authors will be interested in
putting in the time and effort required for a large game.

   SPAG: Can you talk a little about your interactive fiction site on
   About.com? It's pretty widely regarded as first-rate, but I'm
   interested to know how you got the job, what your arrangement is with
   About, things like that.

SG: About, Inc., a Primedia property; formerly About, Inc.; formerly
About.com; formerly MiningCo; formerly The Mining Company; formerly (for
a brief period) Total Quality Network. They began recruiting "guides,"
as they call us, in early 1997. Recruiters looked at web pages devoted
to different topics and then invited the authors of those pages to apply
for a job. (Why was interactive fiction included? To this day I have no
idea.) This sparked a running discussion on rec.arts.int-fiction about
the unsolicited mail and whether what the company planned on doing was
reasonable. The overall newsgroup response was tepid; this leads me to
believe that I was the only one who applied, and thus got the job by
default.

My job is an interesting blend of librarian and essayist. I write
columns about adventure games and maintain a library of links to other
pages. I also have a news page and watch over a forum and weekly
newsletter. For this I am paid via an arcane formula involving how many
people visit the site and how much advertising revenue is taken in. I
cover both text adventures and graphic adventures, with an emphasis on
design issues.

As I see it, the main benefit of my site is that it introduces new
people to interactive fiction. I've gotten mail from people who came to
my site to find information about graphic adventures and were pleasantly
surprised to learn that text adventures were still being written.

   SPAG: What's been the best part of running that site?

SG: The people I've met. I've had the opportunity to talk to Brian
Moriarty and Jane Jensen about adventure games; I've also gotten to know
a number of my regular visitors, who've turned out to be neat folks. I
have friends I would never have met were it not for my site.

The site's even helped people, as unlikely as that sounds. One woman
told me how she was unable to leave her house much due to illness. To
distract herself from her pain she'd play adventure games. My site
helped her find more games, and gave her a place to go to read more
about adventures. When I started working for About, I had no idea that
it would grow so much or that it could have such an effect on people.

   SPAG: You've been a fairly prolific author. Which of your games are
   you proudest of, and why?

SG: This is remarkably like asking me to choose which of my fingers is
my favorite.

All of my games do at least one or two things which I am proud of. If I
had to choose one on which to pin the ribbon, I'd choose "Common
Ground." Not because I think it was a spectacular success, but because
it is the most I've stretched myself in writing a game.

Let me wander a bit afield for a moment. I'm one of the poster children
for "You can get better at writing IF through practice." Writing
interactive fiction requires skill as well as native talent. Practice
can improve your skill immensely. Few can spring full-formed from Zeus's
brow, ready to craft works of great import. Just because your first game
wasn't all that wonderful isn't reason in and of itself not to write
another one.

Mind you, if you're on your fifth game and still don't seem to be
getting better, then you might consider a different line of work.

   SPAG: Do you plan to write more IF in the near future? If so, can you
   give us a little preview of the projects you have in mind?

SG: I just wrote "Constraints" for Emily Short's TranscriptComp, after a
hiatus of over a year (not counting the two IF Arcade games I wrote). I
have a few ideas kicking around. One involves a $70 time machine and a
TV remote control; the other is for a traditional score-driven
puzzlefest. I'm hoping that the release of TADS 3 will help encourage me
to actually write the damn things. Of course, I'm sure I'll have plenty
of time to write them once I'm supposed to be writing my dissertation.

   SPAG: Finally, here's something I've always wondered about: why is
   your name on the ifMUD "Sargent?"

SG: Ah, an easy one. My initials are SRG; long ago I came up with a
number of words and names based on those initials. When I first logged
into ifMUD lo those many years ago, I chose Sargent from that
half-remembered list.

KEY TO SCORES AND REVIEWS--------------------------------------------------

Consider the following review header:

NAME: Cutthroats
AUTHOR: Infocom
EMAIL: ???
DATE: September 1984
PARSER: Infocom Standard
SUPPORTS: Z-code (Infocom/Inform) interpreters
AVAILABILITY: LTOI 2
URL: Not available.

When submitting reviews:  Try to fill in as much of this info as you can.
If you choose, you may also provide scores for the games you review, as 
explained in the SPAG FAQ. The scores will be used in the ratings 
section.  Authors may not rate or review their own games.

More elaborate descriptions of the rating and scoring systems may be found
in the FAQ and in issue #9 of SPAG, which should be available at:

        ftp://ftp.gmd.de:/if-archive/magazines/SPAG/
 and at http://www.sparkynet.com/spag

REVIEWS -------------------------------------------------------------------

From: Murderous 

NAME: Busted!
AUTHOR: Jon Drukman (also did port)
EMAIL: jsd SP@G cyborganic.com
DATE: July 1993 ADVSYS; 2001 Inform port
PARSER: Infocom Standard
SUPPORTS: Z-code (Infocom/Inform) interpreters; unreviewed ADVSYS version
AVAILABILITY: Freeware (GMD)
URL: ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/zcode/busted.zip
     ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/advsys/busted.dat

This is a port of an older Advsys title in order for the author to learn
Inform and two things are clear: the game is firmly-rooted in the "old
school" of adventuring; and that the author is not yet a master of
Inform.

You start as a University student with an urgent story-hook: an
answerphone message from a friend who has just been ... busted! He has
given you enough warning that you can hide all your 'stuff' before the
cops catch up with you.

You're provided with plenty of locations, but you visit rather than
explore; there's plenty of objects, but their placement is so obvious
it's fake. 'Random' events (turn-timed or location dependent) range from
the disjointed to the outright daft. Nothing subtle here.

The introduction was quite effective in bringing the immediacy of the
situation to play, but it's abandoned for 'eat in X turns or die'.
Thereafter the urgency proved too difficult to resurrect, so it was
replaced by a 'get some sleep or die'. Eh? What happened to the urgent
starting hook? 

Tech warning - there are a number of bugs, object conflicts, and the
parser is 'functional' at best; but while they can be annoying they
don't entirely destroy the game, just keep it simple. It's a plain urban
school adventure, on mild drugs.

The trump-card of this title is the humour, and if you hate/hated parts
of your academic life then you'll find the game all the more funny: the
truly appalling food, the space-case friends, evangelical Christians --
BUSTED certainly has its moments. There are funny remarks and cute ideas
that break up the otherwise sparse text. It's free. And you start with a
joint in your inventory, which is an immediate saving grace, so the game
isn't entirely without merit. But with all the brilliant IF in the world
it's hard to be enthusiastic about it either.

PLOT: Strays (0.7) ATMOSPHERE: Suitably rendered (1.3)
WRITING: Functional, with humour (1.0) GAMEPLAY: Flat or dips (0.7)
SOME HUMOUR AND FUN: Can't deny it (1.3)
TOTAL: 5.0

CHARACTERS: Colourful cardboard (1.1) PUZZLES: Arbitrary obituary (0.7)
DIFFICULTY: Not a brain taxer, but parser and bugs don't help.

SUMMARY: Check it out if you're interested in some retro adventuring
with a drug twist, but it's probably better st0ned.

-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

From: Duncan Stevens 

TITLE: Degeneracy
AUTHOR: Leonard Richardson
E-MAIL: leonardr SP@G segfault.org
DATE: 2001
PARSER: Inform standard (modified slightly)
SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters
AVAILABILITY: Freeware (GMD)
URL: ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/zcode/degen.z5
VERSION: Release 0.50

One of the nice things about fantasy IF--particularly the sort of
fantasy IF that Graham Nelson has called "lazy medieval," which covers
anything prior to the invention of gunpowder--is that the ground is so
heavily trodden that it's easy'n'fun to stand the player's expectations
on their head. Leonard Richardson's Degeneracy does just that, and while
the trick itself isn't an unqualified success, it works well enough.

It seems you've been enlisted to kill a certain Baron--not only have you
been enlisted, in fact, you've gone and done it just before the game
starts, and your mission is now to get out of the Baron's castle.
Problem is, the Baron has cursed you, and the curse prevents you from
escaping, so you need to delve into some alchemy books to undo the
curse. There's also a time limit of sorts, it turns out, though it's
generous enough that you don't need to be extremely efficient. The game
itself isn't particularly long--it can easily be solved in under 100
moves, and the time limit kicks in at about 200 moves or so.

The puzzles aren't especially exciting--there are only a few of them,
and reading the manuals you find is essentially all you need to do--but
there's lots of fun to be had in the writing. Much of it is
mock-Elizabethan or thereabouts--lots of Surprising Capitalizations, for
one thing, often put to amusing purposes. (There's one object containing
water that you can pour over your head; suitably instructed, the game
tells you that "you fit your Head under the deluge from the [object],
and moisten your Hair." Better still are the antics of a pig you
encounter, such as:

   The Pig wanders over to the heavy Portcullis & pokes its snout
   through on of the gaps in the iron Gate. A wistful look comes across
   the Pig's face, as it ponders a more carefree time in its life, a
   time redolent with Rolls in cool Mud & games of <>
   with its thirty-seven Grand-Children.

The hints, liberally sprinkled with fake hints in the style of Infocom's
Invisiclues, add to the humor. (E.g., in response to a question about
how to get out of a certain room: "You might follow the carpet." "It
leads off 'toward the sunrise'." "From which direction does the sun
rise?" "Go east." "This is not technically a puzzle.") It's true that
the game doesn't take every opportunity for humor that comes along--at
least, so it seemed to me--but there are some surprisingly funny bits.
(All the funnier because the game appears to take the dour persona of
the PC so seriously.) The author wrote "Guess the Verb!", from the 2000
competition, which was similarly full of sly humor.

As mentioned, there's a trick of sorts in the game, on which I won't
elaborate here. It's not a total success; some players, I know, thought
it was a bug, which it most certainly isn't. There are indications that
something's afoot well before the trick happens, though they depend to
some extent, I think, on whether the player's moving around--fewer, if
any, of the clues would be apparent to a player who's staying in one
room working on a puzzle. (Technically, none of the puzzles are so hard
that such concentration should be warranted, but you never know.) The
nature of the trick is such that, unless duly warned, the player's
likely to attribute the effect to a bug--that the author isn't extremely
well known works against him in this case. (If it were Zarf trying to do
the same thing, in other words, the player might tend to have more
faith.) The moral is that an author planning a surprise of this kind
should err on the side of overcluing (and taking excessive precautions
to ensure that the player will see the clues). That aside--and I did get
the clues, so it did work for me--it's a pretty clever idea, and again,
the medieval setting helps: the player expects breaches of the fourth
wall less, perhaps, than he or she might otherwise.

It's also worth noting that, for a short game that may well exist for
purposes of the above trick, Degeneracy's world is quite thoroughly
created. There's a religion that, if not exhaustively described, comes
across enough to be understood. There's a political system (well, hints
about one). There' s a reasonably complex system of alchemy. And aside
from all this, there are a couple of magic systems that have a variety
of effects and are reasonably consistently applied. The production
values are good enough, then, that this isn't simply lazy medieval
fantasy.

Degeneracy isn't a masterpiece, but it's not strictly a one-trick pony
either--there's plenty to appreciate aside from the central gimmick.

-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

From: Duncan Stevens 

TITLE: FailSafe
AUTHOR: Jon Ingold
E-MAIL: ji207 SP@G cam.ac.uk
DATE: 2000
PARSER: Inform standard
SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters
AVAILABILITY: Freeware (GMD)
URL: ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/zcode/FailSafe.z5
VERSION: Current release

The "narrative at war with a crossword" that describes most IF
games--the competing demands of plot and puzzles, and the attempt to
accommodate both without sacrificing either--is actually, as many have
noted, a stand-in for a more fundamental question: how to involve the
player in the story the author wants to tell while still telling that
particular story? The answer is usually "with puzzles that don't detract
from the structure/pacing/logic of the plot," but not always--it's
possible to get the player involved in a story by means other than
puzzles. Jon Ingold's FailSafe is a might-have-been in this
respect--it's a story that could, I think, have stood on its own, and
which is hindered more than helped by the puzzles it includes.

The protagonist is the only one alive on a spaceship which has taken a
beating after a battle with an alien ship, and is radioing to you, the
player, for help. Specifically, the protagonist wants you to help him
get the ship back in order before the next attack comes along. The
signal isn't very good, though, and the protagonist is less than fully
coherent, so ascertaining what's going on (or has gone on) secondhand is
something of a challenge. (Particularly because all of the standard
system commands--QUIT, SAVE, UNDO, the whole lot of them) are
disabled--the better to reproduce the sense of actually communicating
with someone, of course.) It's an interesting challenge,
though--reconstructing past events (for purposes of gaining insight into
a present situation) is an underused and potentially fruitful IF
technique.

As it happens, though, that's not the focus of what goes on here--there
are a few puzzles, and then you reach one of a variety of endings. The
puzzles aren't especially good; one amounts to trial and error (made all
the more irritating by the absence of UNDO), and another is hindered by
some thoroughly unhelpful syntax. (Yes, admittedly, a person is not a
parser, and it's not entirely realistic to expect a person's
comprehension to work the same way as a parser, but guess-the-syntax is
guess-the-syntax.) The endings are good--thought-provoking and well
worth reaching--but the puzzles, to my mind, don't fit.

Here, it seems, you have a premise that makes the interactive hook, in
the form of puzzles, largely unnecessary. The *game* is a puzzle in
itself; you' re trying to figure out what exactly happened, and you're
battling the protagonist's vagueness and confusion and the chaos
inherent in a partly wrecked ship. The nasty/strange/welcome surprises
that you come across should be able to tell the story and keep the
player involved all by themselves, particularly when the game is this
small. (Well, okay, it would probably have to be a little larger if
there were no puzzles.) There's also room for more story development in
the distance between player and protagonist: do they trust each other?
What do each of them know that the other doesn't? (FailSafe does hit
that angle at one point, but there's more that could be done with it.)

Unnecessary puzzles aside, though, FailSafe has its moments. One
particularly effective touch is a series of messages that the player
receives from a computer analyzing what's happened and who was aboard
the damaged ship, messages that the protagonist doesn't receive; the
juxtaposition between the player's semicoherent account and the
computer's records is occasionally chilling. The inadequate descriptions
are part of what makes the game compelling--when several turns of static
pass before the protagonist's voice returns, there's genuine suspense.
There are also some nicely done red herrings--while there isn't as much
exploration potential as there might be, there's enough to keep the game
from feeling like a small set of puzzles. And the endings are genuinely
surprising (though spoiled somewhat by the game's XYZZY award
nomination; don't read the nominee list before you play the game), and
force the player to rethink what's come before.

FailSafe's small size works against it, I found--there's too little
there for the player to be really pulled up short by any surprising
turns. (The player doesn't spend long enough interacting with the
protagonist, and getting a mental picture of the story, to be truly
caught off guard by unexpected events; the assumptions and mental
pictures aren't around long enough to cause much surprise when they're
challenged or disproved.) Still, it's got an intriguing premise and it's
creatively done, and its spin on the player-PC relationship makes it a
must-play for IF theorists.

-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

From: Cedric Knight 
TITLE: Guess the Verb AUTHOR: Leonard Richardson EMAIL: leonardr SP@G segfault.org DATE: 2000 PARSER: Inform (plus) SUPPORTS/PLATFORM: Inform standard AVAILABILITY: Freeware, GMD URL: http://www.crummy.com/devel/if/gtv/ VERSION: 1 PLOT: 1.3 ATMOSPHERE: 1.1 WRITING: 1.8 GAMEPLAY: 1.4 WIT: 1.9 OVERALL: 7.4 CHARACTERS: 1.4 PUZZLES: 1.2 DIFFICULTY: Easy At the recent XYZZY awards, the idea of a Best Comedy award was bruited about. There seems a lot of logic to this. For example, suppose "Being Andrew Plotkin" was up against "Anchorhead" for Best Writing. "Anchorhead" is one of the best-written games ever, but has hardly a joke in it; "Being Andrew Plotkin" has humorous writing, which is quite a different talent. It is said that good writing is all about using the right words, and good humorous writing is about using the words in the right order. My favourite for Best Comedy of 2000 would have been "Guess the Verb". The title says it all, really. What player has not been in that position where they have the correct puzzle solution, but find it impossible to get the game's parser to understand that? So why not turn the problem around, and make a feature of it? Hence, in this game you are an 11-year-old boy or girl at the "Guess the Verb" fairground booth run by Lalrry [sic] the parser, who is described as "looking much the way Peter Norton would look if Peter Norton were made of stainless steel and had, instead of a head, an Ethernet hub..." I laughed out loud at several parts of this game. The author's spoof "Introduction to IF Concepts" is particularly silly, and shows that this game is not for newcomers to IF at all. The intended audience is anyone who spends a lot of time playing and writing Inform programs and programming in general. Someone like the author, most likely. At one point, one NPC remarks accurately that the game might be getting a little too self-referential, which may limit its potential as a Work of Art, but does gives scope for a lot of knowing in-jokes. To be fair, there is also plenty of other humour spoofing funfairs, parenting, B-movies and so on. Once you've got the general idea, you can just go with the flow, having effectively "solved" some puzzles (by guessing the verb) before you even encounter them. "Guess the Verb" relates to general IF both as pastiche and montage. There's not enough time to get bored or frustrated with the game as it flits between locations and game fragments so quickly, but some of the scenarios have obviously had more work than others. I was lucky to get the UNDO section first off which includes lots of fun objects such as a spell book copied from "Harry Potter and the 2000 Magical Middle Education Standards", and the only complex puzzle of the game. The least developed scenario is definitely DISEMBARK, with the others somewhere between these extremes. The NPCs may not be that important to the plot but have a wide repertoire of amusing responses. GTV is a short game, but then it would be hard to maintain the concept to feature length without spoiling the joke. It reminded me of the sample games like "Toyshop" and "Ruins" that come with Inform. If so, I would say the object lesson that this game illustrates to designers is that if you do use some obscure verb ("CAUTERIZE" even), then you can drop that word (casually) into the text beforehand. -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- [Our man in Russia has sent us this rather scathing review of Kaged, and as usual I've gone over its sentences and tried to wrestle them into something resembling standard English. Any misinterpretations or errors in the translation (and apparently there were a few in my work on last issue's Gateway 2 review) are my fault. --Paul] From: Stas Starkov NAME: Kaged AUTHOR: Ian Finley EMAIL: domokov SP@G aol.com DATE: 2000 PARSER: TADS Standard SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/tads/kaged_s.gam VERSION: 1 HOLLYWOOD STRIKES AGAIN First, I must warn you that this review is an attempt to provide an opinionated critique of the game that won the 2000 IF Competition. But I don't like this game a lot. So as you can guess, I'll pour manure on "Kaged" in this review. That's the reason why I wrote the review. And this review includes personal comments about the author of the game, as well as a lot of cynicism and flame provocation (please, resist this possibility). Also I must add that I live in Russia, and consequently my points of view differ a lot from those of Americans. So you understand that this review is more than a little biased. So, if you're easily angered, stop reading now. That's not a joke. So there. The shareware version of "Kaged" includes images but no music. That's odd, because I know that his Competition 2000 entry contained both sounds and images. But I didn't bother downloading these rather big files (in sum more then 12 Mb), so I don't know what quality these additional "things" add. And I have played only the competition entry. When I started playing the game I felt that it was a parody on dystopias. Why? Look at this chunk of text from the beginning of the game: The madness started a week ago. The entire Citadel of Justice is on razor edge. It began in the Department of Enforcing when a patrolman shot his partner. He begged to be locked away, claiming to see devils. and a bit later: >z Time passes... Pieter's stomach growls. It's not a noise you want to hear again. >examine pieter Pieter has a sausage face set with two piggy eyes, like raisins. His spectacles are huge, saucer-like things that don't help the appearance. Pieter taps you on the shoulder. "Um... where would our office be, Commissar?" There's something incredibly irritating about his voice, like the whine of a petulant child. >z Time passes... Pieter coughs behind you, a wet, phlegmy noise. Well, you see that it is possible to interpret the game comically. But then things show their darker side, and suddenly you notice all the misery of the world. And, gee, it's another dystopia. And not the best one I must add. I've read several dystopias but never found one that feels true enough for me. But more about that subject below. Ian Finley is not a novice author. This is his fourth (I think) game, but the first that I have played. And I don't want to play his other games now. Ian Finley was 20 years old (according to SPAG #23) when he wrote "Kaged" and he was studying acting at the University of Utah at that time. And I think that his theater and movie influences caused all that I don't like in this game. I live in Russia but I see a lot (and I mean *a lot*) of bad American movies. Even the latest Oscar's big winner "Gladiator" got me sick. It's not that this movie is bad. Not at all. But when I see that rich and beautiful woman run to a dying man that she hardly knows but already loves, I can sympathize and even (barely) understand her the first, second or even tenth time I see this thing. But when I see the same scene for the hundredth time (and I mean hundredth) in yet another movie, I get sick. I want to say that "Kaged" is very similar to _bad_ American movies. The only thing that's missing is a girl-friend of the PC (and the pseudo-hero running hand in hand with her with a huge explosion in the background, as at the end of the usual bad movie). I read quite a lot of SF stories, so I'm hard to surprise, though. And this game shows nothing that I haven't read or seen before. Nothing that doesn't reek of decay. Which brings me to the question of plot. The plot wouldn't be that bad if you took only the very beginning and very ending of the game. At least it would be original. But when I saw the middle of the game and all those story twists I felt that I was seeing another bad movie with all the cliches and standard devices that I have already seen a thousand times. And the author manages to place at least two conflicting plots in this game. During the middle part of the game, my best guess was that this plot was entirely a mad dream of a druggie after a good joint. Later I found that my supposition was not far from the real plot, since for half the game author just lies to you. Yet another story of mind manipulation -- yet another idea that was beaten to death (Example: the dystopian movie "Brazil", which, by the way, is far better than "Kaged"). Another feeling that I had during game play: I felt that the author grabbed me from behind and I was dragged to the end of the game. This feeling was due in large part to the puzzles. Puzzles? Hah. There are puzzles but they're not the strongest side of the game. And considering my above descriptions I think you understand that I think that the puzzles stink badly. Why? This game is not a puzzleless game, so there are puzzles. But they are the worst puzzles I have ever seen. Why? OK, I'll give you an example (not from the game): Imagine that you only have a big piece of flammable wood (which you must get by helping an old man to find all his long lost teeth), a bottle of gasoline (which you steal) and a single match (which you found by pushing a high tree). When you have all of the above, you are teleported to the dark room. Huh! What do I need to do to find a ray of light in the kingdom of darkness? I hope you can guess the "solution". Yes, you can work out the solution easily, but can you find the match so easily? So, I ended up with the walkthrough, which is twice as odd because the puzzles in common are very straightforward. It's very, very annoying when all puzzles are based on _giving_ you the right and obvious tools to solve another puzzle. (And did you notice the old man in my example? He is there only to give you a piece of wood, but you must solve his errand first.) And this feels so unnatural, that I got sick (again). The puzzles stink badly. So there. Another feature that is not very interactive is the "talk" verb (as in "talk to worker"). According to the game, "this action will cause your character to examine the current situation and say whatever would be most appropriate." Someone on R*IF said that the menu-based interrogation system is a bad thing, but this "most appropriate" conversation is far less interactive and looks like a device from graphic adventures. Well, you have now two possible ways to interrogate: (a) to talk or (b) not to talk. But this restriction is solved brilliantly -- the game ignores your silence and continues to talk to you as usual. Dumb, dumb! But you might still believe that this game didn't get first place in the Competition for nothing. OK, I'll open your eyes. I'll tell you about the prose in this game. First, the amount of writing in "Kaged" is just huge. Second, for me any good (but not outstanding) prose with rotten thoughts behind it is just useless crap. And the more text in any art form, the worse, because I must force myself to read all these chunks of text trying to find something good. Well, it is possible to interest me with extraordinary writing wedded to a lame story (plot, I mean), but "Kaged" is not on this level of art. Writing must be on the same level as a story. If the writing is lower than the plot, the whole work will be unenjoyable (but that's not a rule). If a bit higher, the work will be boring and overblown. "Kaged"'s writing is the latter type. Many people like the atmosphere of the game. Well, yes that's something that you can try to play a game for, but for me atmosphere was broken by the rotten plot and stupid puzzles. Ian Finley shows himself as a skilled author, but concept of the game was a total disaster. This game reminds me of Stephen King's stories -- a lot of text, a lot of fake story turnings, a lot of characters, but the result is just boring. Yes, both authors (King and Finley) tried hard to make me believe in the story, but they failed. But King, at least, writes for money and the more text he produces, the more money he'll get. "Hollywood strikes again," I must say. "Kaged", for me, is a game where bad movies merge with the unstoppable urge to write. The dystopia is an old genre. (The first dystopia was written, I think, in the first half of the nineteenth century.) And all dystopias look the same to me. There's always a common story -- some variety of "Big Brother looks at you.", i.e. mega-government takes total control over people's lives, people who are just foolish soulless dolls and who work (the prime purpose of their lives) during all their miserable lives. Why is this concept is not working for me? Because life doesn't work like that. Life can be more grim but not so obviously evil. Sure, it's very visually striking to show a dystopia, but it was beaten to death ages ago. So if "Kaged" is somewhat of a premiere for IF (at least for me), for literature it's something like the rotten carcass of a horse. And as far as I can recall, _new_ dystopias are not published any more. What can I recommend to the author? Better spend your time on books and movies (and not only on good ones) first. And when you're sick from all this crap, you'll understand how not to implement a game. Write a story on the paper, read it and if you don't hear as your stomach growling in hate then, and only then, start to write an IF game. At least the game will be original. -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- From: Francesco Bova NAME: Nothing More, Nothing Less AUTHOR: Gilles Duchesne EMAIL: lonecleric SP@G bigfoot.com DATE: February, 2001 PARSER: Hugo SUPPORTS: Hugo interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware VERSION: 1.21 URL: ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/hugo/NMNL.hex Nothing More, Nothing Less (NMNL) was a late entry to the 2001 SmoochieComp by a first-time author who, in his own words, "used the SmoochieComp as an excuse to learn an IF language", so as you might expect there were some first time growing pains and perhaps a few awkward game design choices, and I hope that the author takes the following review as the constructive criticism that it is intended to be. To his credit, the author attempts a few novel game design initiatives and that's what I'll be focusing on for the first part of this review. NMNL is a fairly small game that takes place in the protagonist's (and most likely the author's) small apartment, with the usual rooms (i.e., bedroom, bathroom, living room) accounted for. There is no use of cardinal directions in the game. Movement through the apartment is simply done through the typing in of room titles. I found this fairly easy to get used to, even though I've grown accustomed to mapping out a landscape in my head with the use of cardinal directions. The room descriptions are fairly succinct, describing the basic necessities of life that surround the PC and his girlfriend, but room descriptions change depending on what challenge the PC is facing. No doubt, this is an attempt by the author to clue the player in to a certain problem by bringing current dilemmas to the foreground of the player's perception. For example, during a section of the game involving the PC's girlfriend's cat, the living room changes from this: Living Room This is the part of the apartment in which I spend most of my waking hours. This is due to three important pieces of furniture here: the large oak desk that holds my much-used computer; the TV, favorite appliance of my beloved after a long day a work; and the futon which we both like to cuddle upon. TO Living Room This is the place where my girlfriend's evil cat sleeps... when it's the least convenient, of course. From here, I can reach the kitchen, the dining room, and the hallway. Not a big deal, right? Except, there's no longer any mention of the TV, computer or futon; all objects which are still in scope but aren't described in the room's current description. In certain rooms, you have to manipulate some of these "hidden" objects to boot. When I ran into the repeated problem of trying to remember what had been in each room the only remedy was to save my position, restart the game, get a good look at what was in each room, then use that prior knowledge during my saved game. Thankfully, the game was only a few rooms big so the saving and restoring wasn't too overwhelming. Still, it was probably more trouble than it should've been. Another interesting game design choice involved progressively revealing items of importance throughout the course of the game. So, for example, a cursory look in a certain room may not reveal much of interest the first time around, but another look a few turns later may reveal something new and useful. Other reviewers of NMNL have enjoyed this feature, but I found it kind of tedious. I'm of the opinion that if something's in scope at the beginning of the game and hasn't been manipulated somehow then it should always be in scope. What ended up happening when I faced a challenge was that I'd just type in each room name, take a look around, and mysteriously bump into what I needed. Again not a big deal, but from a playing experience I could effectively turn my brain off until I stumbled into what I needed and as a result, it wasn't as much fun as it might have been. The game's focus was unfortunately a little off-kilter, too, for what is an extremely linear game. When the intro tells me my goal is to bring in a photo receipt (which incidentally, is the ultimate goal of NMNL), that's generally what I'm aiming to do, but every time I tried to exit my apartment the game would come back with an, "Oh, wait you forgot to do ". This again isn't a big deal but perhaps a smoother game design would have had one puzzle finishing then linking to the beginning of another puzzle, as opposed to segregating them. There is also a novel hint system included which spirits you away to a car being driven by the author and his girlfriend where you can ask or tell the author about a subject and get responses. Unfortunately the responses aren't terribly helpful; more descriptions about objects than a nudge in right direction. The hint system actually serves more as a backdrop for some banter between the author and his girlfriend where we learn about the author's experience concerning the city he lives in, participation in the IF community, and other more menial activities. Inadvertently most likely, the author also designed the hint system so that I, for the life of me, couldn't find my way out of it. Typing in random words finally got me to 'PLAY', which kicked me back into the game. So, to sum up so far: Some interesting game design choices, some of which were not overwhelming successes but most of which I'd certainly applaud as a good attempt at something novel. Outside of the game's infrastructure though, how does the game stack up in the prose and plot department? Well before I address those areas, I'd like to do something they taught us never to do back in IF Review school: I would like to discuss the author as opposed to the game and to start off, I'd like to make the assumption that you the protagonist are in fact the author. Where does this assumption come from? Well number one, all the responses are cast in the first person as opposed to the second and two, the familiar tone of the work when the author describes his surrounding would indicate to me that he's talking about himself. If this assumption was in fact the author's intent, then I think it's also fair to say that the author is pretty crazy about his girlfriend. The initial indications come from the banter between the author and his girlfriend during the hint system piece but the real proof comes from the fact that almost every object description is framed by how it relates to her. For example, look at the following: >examine bed It's a big a comfy bed, with plenty of space for us both. Even if my beloved wasn't living here when I bought it, I thought I should play safe... and I was right. She moves a lot during her sleep, you know? (Well, come to think of it, I don't think I want you to know.) OR >examine sink I basically need to use this sink for four things: washing my teeth, combing my hair, washing my hands and... oh, make that three things. I used to shave daily, but in the recent weeks my beloved has taken a fancy to the bearded look, and I have been willing to oblige her. Boy that's sweet; sugary, feeling-it-in-the-pit-of-your-stomach sweet. Which of course is completely acceptable for a SmoochieComp game, but would get to be a bit much for me personally were it just a normal non-thematically based release. The game is so sweet in fact, that it reads to me more like a homage to the author's girlfriend with the plot and puzzles added after the fact as simple window dressing. There is of course absolutely nothing wrong with that, but the personal nature of the piece may not be to everybody's taste. Now to really go out on a limb, considering the release date for the SmoochieComp games (February 14th), I think it may also be the case that this platform experiment turned out to be a pretty nice valentine for someone special. It could also be the case that I'm assuming way too much and we all know that when people assume: they make an 'ass' out of 'u' and 'me', so maybe I should stop before I get myself into too much trouble. To wrap up then: NMNL as far as a piece of first-time IF and platform experiment is pretty average and pretty much what I'd expect, to be honest, but as a publicly accessible piece that expresses love for someone special (which I believe, perhaps incorrectly, NMNL to be) NMNL is mostly a success, and one a few of us could probably take some lessons from. -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- From: Duncan Stevens TITLE: Ralph AUTHOR: Miron Schmidt E-MAIL: mironi SP@G comports.com DATE: 1996 PARSER: Inform standard SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (GMD) URL: ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/zcode/ralph.z5 VERSION: Release 7 Latter-day IF has seen quite a few innovative experiments with point of view, so it's worth remembering the game that, as far as I know, started the trend, namely Miron Schmidt's Ralph, a 1996 competition entry. In Ralph, you play a dog, a thoroughly doggy dog at that-and while it's not a revolutionary exercise in PC characterization, it's a charming game that ably tackles the challenges of point-of-view experimentation. Your task is to find a lost bone that you've buried somewhere (belying the notion that dogs can always find bones, or other things, that they've buried). The puzzles are somewhat over the top--they involve a more subtle grasp of human and animal psychology than most dogs have, and they strain the limits of a dog's physique--but they're not bad puzzles, on the whole. On the other hand, the puzzles are probably the least doggy thing about the game, since they don't involve thinking like a dog as such, nor are the limitations of inhabiting a dog's body particularly limiting. (Compare A Bear's Night Out, where being a teddy bear was an obstacle to overcome on several fronts, and A Day for Soft Food, where puzzle solutions reflected housecat thinking in several instances.) They're perfectly good human puzzles, but they don't exactly fit here. What does fit, however, is the Easter eggs, of which there are many. Doggy verbs implemented include BARK, BITE, GROWL, SCRATCH, PEE ON, LICK, SMELL, SLOBBER, WAG--and when the verb is transitive, there are logical responses for most of the objects in the game. Particularly amusing in that respect is Christopher Robin, your family's two-year-old, with whom you can interact in a wide variety of levels; likewise, the cat offers amusement opportunities. Beyond that, the game does capture the single-minded psychology of a pet--you note humans' frustration or anger with you casually, but you really only care about that bone. The setting is less than vividly rendered--this is a suburban yard with basic suburban-yard objects--but you're afforded quite a variety of things to do in that suburban yard. Truth to tell, if Ralph had skipped the puzzles entirely and simply devoted itself entirely to Easter eggs, it would have been-well, a pretty aimless game, but possibly quite a lot of fun. Ralph illustrates nicely the challenge faced by concept games, games where the gimmick is the raison d'etre: while it's one thing to think of a good idea that translates well into the IF medium, as this undoubtedly does, it's another thing to convert it seamlessly into puzzle-based IF. This sort of thing can, of course, work both as concept and as puzzle game, as later attempts have shown, but Ralph doesn't really work on both levels (partly because it's so short). The concept, however, is great, and as implementation of the concept this is quite good, more than enough to make it worth playing. The lesson, perhaps, is that the best games are those that marry up high concept with a high level of interactivity (in the form of good puzzles, perhaps, or something else), and Ralph isn't quite on that level, pioneering as it was. At any rate, if you either like dogs or enjoy laughing at dogs' foibles, Ralph is worth a quick look-see; it's got enough funny lines and knowing references to doghood to make it enjoyable. -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- From: Duncan Stevens TITLE: So Far AUTHOR: Andrew Plotkin E-MAIL: erkyrath SP@G eblong.com DATE: 1996 PARSER: Inform standard SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (GMD) URL: ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/zcode/sofar.z8 VERSION: Release 6 It's well known that latter-day IF has moved away from the puzzle-centrism that marked earlier games (to the point where many authors resist the term "game," though no one has come up with a substitute, to my knowledge). Some recent, um, works of IF have shown their defiance of puzzles by eschewing them altogether, but many authors have managed to both incorporate puzzles into the IF they produce and to convey that the puzzles aren't the raison d' etre. Andrew Plotkin's So Far was one of the first games to make that break, and it did so in an interesting way: there isn't a plot as such, but the game conveys themes and impressions in a way that manages to tell a story nonetheless. Trouble is, it's not easy to convey to the uninitiated what that story is. A relationship that may or may not be broken is at the center of it--as the game begins, you appear to have been stood up by Aessa, the object of your affections, and everything that follows picks up the thread in one way or another. You repeatedly encounter machines and devices that don't work properly, usually because of neglect; you repeatedly find yourself in situations where verbal communication seems to be impossible; you repeatedly navigate through hostile and uncomfortable settings. Does all that reflect the relationship in question and the problems with it? Presumably, but nothing is ever spelled out as such; in a sense, you learn about the relationship that drives the game by observing the game and guessing at what pieces are supposed to be allegorical or metaphorical, and in what way. What's interesting about the thematic elements, though, is that they're not just window dressing: at several points, puzzle solutions are solutions because they reflect the themes. In other words, there's no particular reason that could be expressed through any deductive process why something should work, but an attentive player who recognizes the parallel should try the correct solution because it seems to fit into the story. So described, it sounds fairly crude--"gee, I think I'll have everything in my game in threes, and then require the player to knock on a door three times"--but it's done much more effectively than that; the theme in question isn't just an arbitrary motif. To say that you have to think on the game's terms overstates the case a bit; it's more that you have to recognize where the game's sending you. Still, it's an unusual twist. The genre, to the extent there is one, has been called magic realism: the settings aren't taken from fantasy as such, but the rules of the game's world are surreal in some respects. It's a limited surrealism, though: the "magical" aspects are few and limited, and many of the reactions you set off, or problems you solve, are firmly rooted in the ordinary and explicable. Moreover, for the most part, the game keeps the fantastic and mundane elements distinct: with a few exceptions (and those exceptions form an obvious pattern) you won't be wandering along through a conventional setting and come upon something wild and weird. Magic realism, like straight fantasy, can sometimes lead a player to suspect laziness--"rather than trying to make sense of all this, I'll just call it magic"--but So Far mostly resists that characterization: the departures from realism eventually (though not right away) are revealed to be part of a larger pattern and follow rules of a sort. And the writing--ah, the writing. I'm reminded of a saying to the effect that an master or expert is someone who knows when and how to break the rules, because the writing in So Far breaks a lot of rules and gets away with it every time. The prologue, for example: Hot, foul, and dark. How did indoor theater become so fashionable? Well enough in spring rain or winter, but not in the thick, dead afternoon of high summer. And though Rito and Imita looks very fine, shining with electric moonslight in the enclosed gloom, you're much more aware of being crammed in neck-by-neck with your sweaty fellow citizens. Damn the crowd, in truth: your mood was hot, foul, and dark when you sat down. Aessa was supposed to meet you here. She's made excuses before, and you don't think about what it might mean. Try not to think, rather. Just watch the story. One of your favorites. But it's miserably hot, and you just aren't caught up in the play... A lesser writer would not be able to get away with that "in truth" or "well enough," which should sound terribly stilted; a lesser writer would not be able to get away with a neologism like "moonslight" in the first paragraph; a lesser writer would not be able to get away with calling the fellow playgoers "citizens." Here, though, it all works--the seemingly stilted language not only anticipates the poetry of the play, but doesn't even sound awkward here. ("Damn the crowd, in truth" has a certain unlikely ring to it.) Even the shift back to more conventionally colloquial language ("you just aren't caught up in the play") fits--the earlier mood reflected in the unusual sentence patterns is broken, just as the character's concentration breaks. "Moonslight" works because the writing has already established that it's ever so slightly off-kilter--and because the light in question is "electric," off-kilter in its own right. And "citizens" suggests that the theatergoers are there under some sort of duty or compulsion, as if the play is something to be endured rather than enjoyed. Another example: Grassy Hilltop Not a flat tame greensward, mind you; you are surrounded by wild, waist-high, reed-yellow growth that hisses and rattles in the dry breeze. The grasses roll to every cloudless horizon. Above you towers an immense tree -- the only one visible anywhere in this prairie world -- and its shadow slices blackness past your feet. A path of flat, trampled grass cuts south down the hill. The direct address to the player ("mind you") could be distracting, but it's terse enough here (and rare enough elsewhere in the game) that it slides by without yanking the player out of the scene. There are also a lot of adjectives here--"flat" twice, "tame," "wild," "cloudless, "immense," "trampled"--but the active verbs ("hisses and rattles," "roll," "towers," "slices," "cuts") do most of the descriptive work; the adjectives are mostly in a supporting role. "Greensward" feels a little like a thesaurus word, but since it's impossible to miss the meaning of it here (because of the contrast with the "wild, waist-high, reed-yellow growth"), the use of the word doesn't feel willfully obscure. In the gameplay department, So Far breaks some rules as well. For instance, the game begins with a lengthy noninteractive sequence--you can look around and examine things, but that's about it--which is hardly a surefire hook. (And there's no hint at anything more interesting until the noninteractive sequence is over.) Even after the game gets going, it takes quite a while for the player to get a handle on where it's going--and given the nature of the story, or lack thereof, most players are likely to feel directionless for a while. It's rare that you encounter IF with no clear goal, and a new author might not be able to get away with such a move. Arguably, though, that aimlessness is unavoidable, given what the game is trying to do; the alternative is to give the player an ostensible plot that gives way to the introspection that happens here, but there are problems with that as well. There are also various unfairnesses--plenty of learning by screwing up, and in one respect it's easy to send the game into an unwinnable state simply by progressing too far in a certain direction without progressing enough in another. (On the other hand, the point-of-no-return moment is about as obvious as such a moment can be, and it's also fairly obvious that more lies down the other path.) The game bills itself as "cruel," and while it isn't as cruel as Change in the Weather, it's far from forgiving-it's easy to waste essential resources, and at one point it takes only a few moves of waiting to game the game unwinnable. So Far is not a particularly long game, and the overall puzzle-count is relatively low, but the world you're exploring feels larger than it is. Part of the way the game achieves this effect is by scattering locked doors and inaccessible (for one reason or another) exits through the game, which constantly reinforces the sense that you haven't seen everything of interest in the game's world. It's been said that the effect is also to remind you that you're not the center of attention -- the game's universe doesn't revolve around you -- and that effect is particularly well achieved in one setting with a wide variety of characters who can't be bothered to acknowledge your presence (unless you break the rules somehow). Red herrings have always been with us, but obstacles that aren't meant to be overcome are an unusual breed of red herring; Infocom's Planetfall is the only game I can think of that used unsolvable puzzles to set the scene in a similar way. It should also be said, though, that puzzles that aren't meant to be solved at all and puzzles that can only be solved by figuring out the logic of the game's world make for a highly difficult game, and most players will probably end up using hints at some point. It's obvious enough to be hardly worth saying that when Andrew Plotkin's So Far was released, in 1996, it was unlike any IF that had preceded it. Part of what made it unique (then) was the emotional content--the emotional impact of the game is, in many ways, the point. (For the PC, anyway, and arguably for you too.) The prevailing theme of the game is tension and separation: if you don't choose to feel that tension, you're unlikely to find the game involving. It wasn't unknown then (though it was far from common) to impute some sort of emotions to the PC, but generally those emotions weren't particularly complex--now and again the PC might be afraid of something, say--and usually things would be nicely spelled out. Here, by and large, you figure out what the PC feels by analogizing from the impact on you, the player. (The game also tracks your mental state to some extent--the status line, while not recording your emotional temperature as such, does note your general impression of each setting. Examples are "hot, sticky," "mild spring, quiet," and "cramped, crawling.") That reading points to the significance of the PC's emotional state.) It might be argued that that's true for every game that has any kind of emotional content, and it simply doesn't matter what the PC feels--but here, I think, it does matter. You're given a choice at the end of the game, with two very different endings depending on which choice you make--and the choice that most consider "better" (though there's debate about that too) reflects a certain understanding of the emotional significance of the terrain you've traversed. That is, to the extent that the game can be understood as an introspective journey, the "better" resolution of that journey reflects a specific emotional reaction to the self-understanding you've achieved. Other games since So Far have given emotions their place in various ways--Sunset Over Savannah, for one, reproduced So Far's status line but made it describe the PC's mental state more precisely than So Far does (and had the status line reflect events that are likely to affect the PC's thoughts). Other games have aimed at affecting the player's emotional state rather than the PC's; Photopia and Exhibition come to mind. But it's the subtlety of the emotional effects that So Far conveys that make it notable: the feelings at issue are unfulfilled yearnings here, a sense of alienation there, a sensation of conflict between duty and sympathy at another point, and there are no full-orchestra emotional turning points. In this respect, as in others, it's a game that rewards careful reading. It's difficult, in the end, to explain what it is that makes So Far so memorable. The settings are vivid, but not spectacularly so, and the strongest theme in the descriptions is decay and abandonment--compelling on an emotional level but not necessarily captivating as IF. A few of the puzzles are memorable, but there aren't enough puzzles here to make the game work on that basis alone. My own sense of why I found the game fascinating was that it demanded attention and analysis; indeed, without analysis, it's not even vaguely memorable, because very little of what's most interesting about So Far is there on the surface. More than any other IF I can think of--Losing Your Grip is the only game that comes close--So Far is best appreciated through poring over the transcript and drawing connections between events that aren't necessarily juxtaposed in space or time. (An example: dawn is a recurring theme throughout the game. There are several references to "dawn-tales," and at a key point you're told that "dawn is distant yet." As it happens, the woman you're seeking is named Aessa, and the Latin for "dawn" is "aes.") (Another example: a certain substance links two disparate scenes by protecting a road from erosion in one setting and sustaining a trapped character in another.) There's been plenty of IF that's been thought-provoking, but very little that calls for textual analysis. Is that good, or bad? Shouldn't IF be capable of appreciation without transcript dissection? I dunno; I certainly wouldn't say that So Far is to everyone's tastes, and I do enjoy IF where the relevant happenings are closer to the surface. But much of the best contemporary fiction works in a way that's closer to the way So Far works, and it's exciting to see a work of IF that aspires in that direction. That the product is less than ideal as a game, in the final analysis, seems almost beside the point. -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- [Note: This overview does not include Dan Shiovitz's game "You Are A CHEF!", which Skip suggests is so perfect that to review it would be wrong. --Paul] From: Jonathan "Skip" Rosebaugh NAME: SpeedIF 8: A Freak Accident Leaves Seattle Pantsless AUTHORS: Matthew Amster-Burton, David Cornelson, Christopher Huang, Admiral Jota, and Dan Shiovitz [not included in review] DATE: 2000 PARSER: TADS and Inform standard SUPPORTS: TADS and Inform interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/mini-comps/speedif/SpeedIF08.zip VERSION: 1 The Games reviewed: * A Freak Accident Leaves Seattle Pantsless by Christopher "Miseri" Huang * I Went to the WTO Ministerial Conference and All I Got Was This Souvenir Delegate From Mauritius by Matthew "mamster" Amster-Burton * Pantsless in Seattle by David "Jarb" Cornelson * A Freak Accident Leaves Seattle Pantsless III: Endgame by Admiral "Jota" Jota SpeedIF is a blot on society. As indicated by the name, a SpeedIF entry is a work of IF written very fast -- two hours is the usual time limit. The parameters for each SpeedIF are usually generated via a mad-libs style audience participation thingie on ifMUD. The parameters for SpeedIF 8 were: SpeedIF8, entitled, 'A Freak Accident leaves Seattle Pantsless[1]', outside of a shop (type of which is your choosing) named 'End Of Days' serving something on the menu named 'Blitzkreig', 'ViReX', and 'Macrolicious'. At another location, 23rd and Lincoln, an experiment is taking place that you need to help complete. This experiment involves corn, an electrical kite, and a missing sock. Bonus points for ZeroG Sex, and _any_ references to BWP (Blair Witch Project). [1] Pants are considered to be inherently funny on ifMUD, particularly when they are not being worn. As might be expected, the entries were many, various, and totally off the wall. Below is a transcribing of the notes left behind by an adventurer who failed to protect his sanity. A Freak Accident Leaves Seattle Pantsless Entropy fascinates me. I loved, for example, "The Entropy Effect." Physics fascinates me. On the first day of physics class, I managed to use both words in the same context, and was overjoyed, so it's only natural for this game to please me. You have a quest. You must recover a sock -- a sock that vanished in a clothes dryer. Along the course of your quest you will encounter two out of three of the following items: a voodoo doll, a rectal thermometer, and an artifact of Jack the Ripper. Why? There's no reason; there doesn't have to be. This is SpeedIF. Once you complete your quest, you find that you have socks. You have, in fact, all the socks ever lost for the past few decades. However, since the law of conservation of mass applies to plane transfer, everybody for miles around loses their pants. Provided that the protagonist escapes lynching, he will have both a mighty terrorist weapon and an excellent source of socks. Also, he will have popcorn. Mmm, popcorn. The virgin adventurer might be tempted to look for meaning in this work of SpeedIF. After all, we have physics and meta-physics. We have complicated experiments designed to reverse the flow of time. We have food. Alas, no. The only meaning is that there is not, and can never be a meaning in SpeedIF. Unless there can be one. The only possible thing to take away from playing this game is a newly-enhanced respect for the limitless possibilities for counterfeiting involved in transformation of physical matter. I Went to the WTO Ministerial Conference and All I Got Was This Souvenir Delegate From Mauritius Aha! Here we have both entertainment and social commentary in one small package with a very long name. Featuring both a famous author and a mayor, and also a bonus appearance of the author, this little game manages to make us concerned enough about the fate of world trade that we too will drop our pants -- erm, I mean, practice civil disobedience. Also, this game features hilarious puppets. This is likely the only SpeedIF game ever to feature more puppets than NPCs, even though it has 10,003 NPCs. Also, I was disappointed that Neal Stephenson prefers Sherman tanks to his own All-Purpose Plex Armed Strife Mobile Unit. In fact, Neal Stephenson isn't even really a part of this game; he just stands around playing with advanced weaponry. In fact, why are hydrogen bombs even available to World Trade Organization Ministerial Conference protesters? Is this the kind of world you want your children to inherit? If not, then get out there and protest the protesters. What is in fact a part of this game is removing pants as a statement and protest, which gets you trucked off to jail in the ending statement. Like small countries, this small, short game has a very, very long name, and like small countries, it may be worth visiting. Pantsless in Seattle At last a game that respects the integrity of science enough to include a Professor, and a game that respects the integrity of hormones enough to include a beautiful woman. Er, that's just one game, in case you were counting. Like every other game in the SpeedIF universe, this game is short, sweet, and gets worse every time you play it. (Actually, it doesn't, but I felt compelled to work entropy in here somewhere.) This game does, however, feature what I think must be a character from Spellbreaker, in that this NPC does some magic. Like another game, this game features loss of pants. There is a NPC responsible for this atrocity, but he is never brought to justice. What is this world coming to when a pants thief can, in addition to his previously heinous theft of socks, get away scott-free with the theft of all of Seattle's pants? Obviously, the problem is scott-free. If Adventureland were not packaged with Inform, the knowledge of Scott Adams games would be limited to an elite few. Once this happens, there would be a socialist revolution within the IF community, and pants would be shared equally. A Freak Accident Leaves Seattle Pantsless III: Endgame Once again, we have a criminal. In this case, however, our arch-fiend is not a magic-wielding pants-thief, but a deranged sock. Also, despite the title, this game takes place in Acapulco. This game is the third in a tragically non-existent series and it makes frequent reference to the precursing games. Furthermore, since it takes place in Acapulco, all dialogue is in Spanish. Fortunately, subtitling is provided for non-Spanish-speakers. Those who can speak Spanish, however, will be laughing. The Spanish dialogue is the second-funniest thing in the game, right after the sock. The game ends with a promise of more to come. [Here the scribbled hand ended. I can only presume that he died of starvation, while frantically waiting for A Freak Accident Leaves Seattle Pantsless IV: Tentative Title.] So, there you have it, folks. Once upon a time, only the IF Gods could enjoy games made humorous due to time limits, but now these games are available even to mere mortals. So play away, and come join the ifMUD so you too can help keep the tradition of quickly written Interactive Fiction alive. Please note: The author is not on crack. The author is on caffeine. -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- From: Francesco Bova NAME: Textfire Golf AUTHOR: J. T. Adams AKA Adam Cadre EMAIL: ac SP@G adamcadre.ac DATE: 2001 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Z-code (Inform) interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware VERSION: 1.01 URL: ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/zcode/golf.z5 Do you know why you don't see any extremely tall golfers on the PGA tour? Sure there are the odd anomalies, but by and large most professional golfers are under 6'2'' (and over 90% shoot right handed, but I won't get into that). The reason: Tall golfers have more in the way of mechanics that they have to get right to hit a ball properly. Because their arms and legs are longer, and correspondingly the arc of their swing is bigger, the distance traveled from back swing to contact is longer and more can potentially go wrong as the clubface approaches the ball. As a result, any mistake (i.e., opening up the club face too much) during a tall golfer's swing is magnified to a much greater extent than it would be had the golfer been shorter. Having said that, if a taller golfer gets all of his mechanics in place correctly, then the resulting swing should produce a much better drive, all things being equal, than that of a shorter golfer because of the extra power provided by the increased leverage of the golfer's longer arms and body. The net effect of this concept is that good shorter golfers should be more polished and consistent than good taller golfers, but when taller golfers get everything done correctly, they should be able to produce better individual results than shorter golfers. Strangely enough, this concept parallels many an IF piece (nice segue, eh?). Before we look at the comparison, let's start with a little IF theory. The larger the IF game, the more rooms and more objects to implement, and the greater the combinatorial explosion. What it means to a game designer is this: Every time you add one object to the game, you have to consider how it may need to interact with every other object in the game. In essence, by adding one object you're potentially DOUBLING the number of interactions that may need to be allowed (or disallowed, with appropriate "you can't do that" messages). An example of how this can be a problem crops up in one of the largest IF releases in recent memory, The Mulldoon Legacy. Mulldoon is a game that taxes Inform's memory capabilities with an incredible amount of rooms and objects. Although still impressively good, the problem with its first release was that players tried to utilize obviously single-use inventory items in logical ways, even though the author hadn't accounted for all the possible uses of the many items in his game. And, in a few cases, alternate solutions were found that were never intended by the author. This lead to a bit of frustration on my part, although once I thought about it, the sheer task of trying to come up with all the possible combinations in a game like Mulldoon would be quite difficult even for the most experienced author. The point is that the bigger the game, the more little oversights and errors can be magnified into bigger ones and, much like a tall golfer's swing, can cause adverse affects that affect the bigger picture. Suffice it to say that bigger games that are technically competent and consistent deserve much praise due to the sheer difficulty of reducing this combinatorial explosion. The combinatorial explosion (or lack thereof), is also the reason why I would expect a higher degree of polish for a smaller game and be much more critical of such oversights. Textfire Golf is a fairly small game and so, keeping my previous opinions in mind, I would expect a high degree of polish (not as nice a segue, I know, but I've been trying to work that golf analogy into a review for, like, ever, and this seemed an appropriate place to do it). To be honest, I would expect a high degree of polish anyway because of the name in the authorial credits, so it was no surprise that Textfire Golf impressed me in many ways. A halfway Z-abuse (not completely ASCII art-based like Z-snake, for example), Textfire Golf also incorporates an interesting storyline for a quick 9-hole game of golf. What makes this game really work though, is the arcade-like feature of being able to control your ball's pace and trajectory. This is done with a power meter that you stop with a press of the space bar, and a trajectory meter that will result in you slicing, hooking, or driving dead center. The method follows the standard arcade power and trajectory meter pretty faithfully, and is certainly an improvement on some of the older style golf games I've played (the one I'm thinking of involves pushing a little white ball set in the arcade's console, which gave the player little to no control over the ball's distance and direction). The course itself isn't too difficult to play, and with the benefit of the UNDO command you can always go back and retry a stroke if you've made a mistake (if only it were that easy in real life). I actually would have preferred it if the author removed the UNDO command, just to keep us a bit honest. It would have, at the very least, provided me with more incentive to replay the game in an attempt to get my score a little lower. For players who only play the game to fiddle with the golfing interface, this is especially true. Still, even with the UNDO feature enabled, there are many reasons to try replaying this game as there are multiple endings that take into account almost every contingency you can think of (i.e., hitting your ball out of bounds 20 times in a row, or putting with your driver). I came up with roughly 16 endings myself, but I'm sure that there are more I didn't find. The fiction side, as is typical of a Cadre game, is well written with witty dialogue and Mr. Cadre's trademark snarky parser. The best bits of prose for me came from your foursome's bastardized golfing lingo and constant cheap shots. Here is a typical example: Ted's ball sails over the bridge and lands on the far side of the lake. Ed taps the ball off the tee and onto the fairway. "You do realize that if you keep us here till eleven it's coming out of your pay," Ted points out. Fred shanks the ball into the lake. "Maggie, call Aquaman!" Ted yells. Although interaction with the NPCs is limited (all you can really do is ask your caddy for a certain club type), the interaction with the game's environment is surprisingly rich, as the author has allowed for many common golfing actions (common cheating techniques for example), and some not-so-common actions that generate some interesting non-default responses. Each hole is described creatively as well, and that's more of a challenge than you'd probably think considering most golf holes have similar types of scenery. The storyline also proves to be more substantial than its initial premise of a simple foursome of golf. You play the part of Ned, a lowly hack who works for a construction company and wants to play with the big boys. When an opening in the usual foursome appears, you're invited to play and with the invitation comes an opportunity to assert your position within the company's hierarchy. What may get lost while you're enjoying the mechanics of swinging your golf club and taking in the beautifully described scenery however, is that there are lofty issues afoot with the PC. Ned, as it turns out, is a character fraught with insecurity; so much so in fact that his constant overanalyzing leads to an abnormal inability to act. In this respect, he reminded me of the 2000 XYZZY-award-winning PC from the 2000 IFComp game Rameses. When I played through Textfire Golf I could see shades of J. Alfred Prufrock's quote, "Do I dare to eat a peach?", creeping into the protagonist's mindset as his constant self-critiquing leaves him unable to act, and this was similar to my playing experience with Rameses. Comparing Rameses' protagonist with Ned, the big difference is that while both are overanalytical in their mindset and are therefore unable to act proactively, the Rameses PC WILL NOT act regardless of what the player types. This essentially relegates the player to the role of conscience or voice of reason that the protagonist refuses to listen to. Ned, on the other hand, can be broken out of his cocoon to do just about anything. Also, unlike the Rameses PC where the failings of the protagonist are specifically driven by his own inabilities, Ned seems to have a streak of bad luck working against him that affects him regardless of his actions. Of the 16 or so endings I found in the game, none were positive (although it may be the case that I never saw the optimal one). It's as if the golfing gods are punishing him for having the hubris to elevate himself above his current place in the corporate chain. Hmmm... maybe I'm overanalyzing a bit. I suppose it could also be the case that Ned's just unlucky and a bit shy. Also, keeping the author's previous works in mind, there seems to be a real trend towards more realistic endings as opposed to the overly happy, utopic ones. The comment here may be that Ned was na´ve in the first place to think one golf game could change his future. Whatever the case, Ned is an interesting PC to be sure, and more than I expected considering this game was initially labeled a Z-abuse. OK, I think I've said enough. Let's wrap this baby up. For you golfing fans, I think you'll get a real kick out of Textfire Golf and it's novel golfing interface, and for everyone else, the dialogue and scenery descriptions coupled with a more-than-skin-deep NPC are worth the time it takes to download. Golfing score: BIRDIE -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- [This review popped up in my mailbox on April 1st, and while I've edited the language, I've made no effort to fact-check the contents. Make of it what you will... --Paul] From: Stas Starkov NAME: Zugzwang - The Interactive Life of a Chess Piece AUTHOR: Magnus Olsson EMAIL: zebulon SP@G pobox.com DATE: 1999 PARSER: Inform Standard SUPPORTS: Z-code (Infocom/Inform) interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/zcode/zugzwang.zip VERSION: Release 2 If you don't know what the term 'zugzwang' means, I don't want to spoil your fun of playing the game. But if you're one of those several geniuses who play chess sometimes, you already know what it means. Yes, this game is about chess. I'll tell you more -- this game is a sort of chess simulation. You yourself are a chess piece -- imagine this. But this is not so bad as it sounds -- in the beginning you're only a Pawn (the least powerful piece in chess). And if you're smart and bold (you must be very bold or, umm, very bald -- I'm not sure) you will really win. Your moves can bring peace and order on the chess fields. Incredible responsibility lies on your weak (in the beginning) shoulders -- it is up to you to save the entire world. 'Zugzwang' features many never-before-seen aspects of RPG (role-playing games) and RTS (real-time strategy). There are about ten big battle fields, and hundreds of types of armor and weapons. The deepest depth of NPC implementation that the IF world has ever seen would be enough already to earn Zugzwang the honor of most intellectual game in GMD. But it must not distract you from the game: 'Zugzwang' features a floating level of difficulty; that is, the game observes your playing skill and if you're good, the difficulty rises and vice versa. The AI (Artificial Intelligence) never lets you stay bored. There are some bad things about game itself: if you own a quite small computer screen you can't enjoy the beautiful almost-3D graphics. But if you have a good fast 3D accelerator (like Voodoo 5 or GeForce 256 -- I have both) and a really fast computer you'll experience the full quality of this technically high-end game. But if you want more, a good expensive sound system will help, as well your favorite joystick. This game compelled me to buy a professional sound card, and I don't think that my money was lost. And there is this unique feature: 'Zugzwang' supports VR-helmets of six types. But most important, this game is compatible with almost every computer system (Windows 2000, Linux, Mac etc., etc.). You must know that this particular game is only a demo. To receive the full story of 'The Interactive Life of a Chess Piece' you must register. And I can say that it is worth your money. The full version comes on _two_ DVDs or on _twelve_ CDs. "But what is the special offer mentioned in the demo game?" you can ask. It is source code for the _entire_ game, which means that you yourself can create a game that you can sell after that. Yes, sell -- and get really big money for several hours work. This game is really good from the standpoint of creating your own version. And, of course, even the demo version supports multiplayer mode via the Internet. This game is the apotheosis of the text adventure. You _must_ play at least a demo. But I'm sure that after the very beautiful, stunning, mind bending climax, for the next several hours you'll only be able to do one thing: reminisce over the greatest moments of the game. And after that you'll smash your piggy bank and order the full registered version of 'Zugzwang'. One last thing that I absolutely must say -- this game is fully compatible with RAIF-POOL. And if you're not a beginner in IF, that will definitely mean something to you. READERS' SCOREBOARD ------------------------------------------------------- The Readers' Scoreboard is an ongoing feature of SPAG. It charts the scores that SPAG readers and reviewers have given to various IF games since SPAG started up. The codes in the Notes column give information as to a game's availability and the platforms on which it runs. For a translation of these codes and for more detailed information on the scoreboard's format, see the SPAG FAQ. This FAQ is available at the ftp.gmd.de IF-archive or on the SPAG web page at http://www.sparkynet.com/spag. Name Avg Sc Chr Puz # Sc Issue Notes: ==== ====== === === ==== ===== ====== 1-2-3... 4.1 0.9 0.5 3 23 F_INF_GMD 9:05 6.3 0.6 0.7 8 20 F_INF_GMD Aayela 7.4 1.2 1.5 5 10 F_TAD_GMD Abbey 6.8 0.6 1.4 1 S10_I_GMD Above and Beyond 7.3 1.5 1.6 5 F_TAD_GMD Acid Whiplash 5.1 0.6 0.2 4 17 F_INF_GMD Acorn Court 6.1 0.5 1.5 2 12 F_INF_GMD Ad Verbum 7.4 0.9 1.7 3 23 F_INF_GMD Adv. of Elizabeth Hig 3.1 0.5 0.3 2 5 F_AGT_GMD Adventure (all varian 6.0 0.5 1.1 13 8,22 F_INF_TAD_ETC_GMD Adventureland 4.4 0.5 1.1 6 F_INF_GMD Adventures of Helpful 7.0 1.3 0.9 2 F_TAD_GMD Aftermath 4.0 0.7 0.7 1 F_TAD_GMD Afternoon Visit 4.1 1.0 0.8 1 F_AGT Aisle 6.6 1.4 0.3 8 18 F_INF_GMD Alien Abduction? 7.5 1.3 1.4 5 10 F_TAD_GMD All Alone 8.2 1.3 0.7 2 22 F_TAD_GMD All Quiet...Library 5.0 0.9 0.9 6 7 F_INF_GMD Amnesia 6.9 1.5 1.3 4 9 C_AP_I_64 Anchorhead 8.8 1.7 1.5 25 18 F_INF_GMD And The Waves... 7.9 1.5 1.1 2 23 F_INF_GMD Another...No Beer 2.4 0.2 0.8 2 4 S10_I_GMD Arrival 7.9 1.3 1.4 5 17 F_TAD_GMD Arthur: Excalibur 8.0 1.3 1.6 44,14,22 C_INF Asendent 1.7 0.0 0.3 1 F_INF_GMD At Wit's End 7.1 1.2 1.3 1 23 F_TAD_GMD Augmented Fourth 7.9 1.2 1.6 7 22 F_INF_GMD Aunt Nancy's House 1.3 0.1 0.0 2 F_INF_GMD Awakened 7.7 1.7 1.6 1 Awakening 5.6 0.9 1.1 2 15,18 F_INF_GMD Awe-Chasm 3.0 0.7 0.7 2 8 S_I_ST_GMD Babel 8.4 1.7 1.3 10 13 F_INF_GMD Balances 6.6 0.7 1.2 9 6 F_INF_GMD Ballyhoo 7.3 1.5 1.5 6 4 C_INF Bear's Night Out 7.3 1.1 1.3 7 13 F_INF_GMD Beat The Devil 5.5 1.2 1.1 4 19 F_INF_GMD Being Andrew Plotkin 7.5 1.5 1.1 2 23 F_INF_GMD Best Man 5.2 0.8 1.2 2 F_INF_GMD Beyond the Tesseract 3.7 0.1 0.6 1 6 F_I_GMD Beyond Zork 7.7 1.5 1.7 10 5, 14 C_INF Big Mama 5.4 1.2 0.6 3 23 F_INF_GMD BJ Drifter 6.5 1.2 1.2 5 15 F_INF_GMD Bliss 6.3 1.1 0.8 4 20 F_TAD_GMD Bloodline 7.7 1.4 1.1 2 15 F_INF_GMD Border Zone 7.2 1.4 1.4 7 4 C_INF Breakers 7.5 1.5 1.1 1 C_I_AP_M_64_S Break-In 6.1 1.1 1.4 3 21 F_INF_GMD Breaking The Code 0.4 0.0 0.0 2 F_INF_GMD Brimstone: The Dream. 6.5 1.4 1.1 1 C_I_AP_M_64_S Broken String 3.9 0.7 0.4 4 F_TADS_GMD BSE 5.7 0.9 1.0 3 F_INF_GMD Bureaucracy 6.9 1.5 1.4 12 5 C_INF Busted 5.1 1.1 0.9 2 25 F_INF_GMD Calliope 4.7 0.9 0.8 3 F_INF_GMD Cask 1.5 0.0 0.5 2 F_INF_GMD Castaway 1.1 0.0 0.4 1 5 F_I_GMD Castle Amnos 4.6 1.0 0.8 2 F_INF_GMD Castle Elsinore 4.3 0.7 1.0 2 I_GMD Cattus Atrox 4.9 1.2 0.8 1 17 F_INF_GMD CC 4.2 0.4 1.0 1 F_ALAN_GMD Change in the Weather 7.5 1.0 1.3 14 7,8,14 F_INF_GMD Chaos 5.6 1.3 1.1 2 F_TAD_GMD Chicken under Window 6.6 0.8 0.3 4 F_INF_GMD Chicks Dig Jerks 5.2 1.1 0.7 9 19 F_INF_GMD Chico and I Ran 7.2 1.7 1.1 1 F_INF_GMD Christminster 8.2 1.6 1.6 20 20 F_INF_GMD Circus 3.4 0.5 0.8 1 City 6.1 0.6 1.3 2 17 F_INF_GMD Clock 3.7 0.8 0.6 1 F_TAD_GMD Coke Is It! 5.6 1.0 0.9 3 F_INF_GMD Coming Home 0.6 0.1 0.1 1 F_INF_GMD Common Ground 7.2 1.6 0.4 2 20 F_TAD_GMD Commute 1.3 0.2 0.1 1 F_I_GMD Comp00ter Game 0.9 0.1 0.1 1 F_INF_GMD Congratulations! 2.6 0.7 0.3 1 F_INF_GMD Corruption 7.2 1.6 1.0 4 14, 21 C_MAG Cosmoserve 7.8 1.4 1.4 5 5 F_AGT_GMD Cove 6.5 0.8 0.7 4 22 F_INF_GMD Crimson Spring 6.9 1.5 1.2 1 F_HUG_GMD Crypt v2.0 5.0 1.0 1.5 1 3 S12_IBM_GMD Curses 8.0 1.2 1.7 19 2, 22 F_INF_GMD Cutthroats 5.7 1.3 1.1 9 1 C_INF Dampcamp 5.0 0.8 1.1 3 F_TAD_GMD Danger! Adventurer... 3.2 0.3 0.7 1 F_INF_GMD Dangerous Curves 8.6 1.5 1.6 1 F_INF_GMD Day For Soft Food 6.8 1.0 1.3 5 19 F_INF_GMD Deadline 6.9 1.3 1.3 9 20 C_INF Death To My Enemies 4.4 0.9 0.7 4 F_INF_GMD Deep Space Drifter 5.6 0.4 1.1 3 3 S15_TAD_GMD Deephome 4.0 0.5 0.9 2 21 F_INF_GMD Delusions 7.9 1.5 1.5 5 14F_INF_GMD Demon's Tomb 7.4 1.2 1.1 2 9 C_I Desert Heat 6.0 1.3 0.7 1 23 F_TAD_GMD Detective 1.0 0.0 0.0 9 4,5,18 F_AGT_INF_GMD Detective-MST3K 6.0 1.2 0.2 10 7,8,18 F_INF_GMD Dinner With Andre 7.2 1.6 1.4 1 23 F_INF_GMD Ditch Day Drifter 6.3 0.9 1.6 5 2 F_TAD_GMD Djinni Chronicles 7.1 1.1 1.1 3 23 F_INF_GMD Down 6.0 1.0 1.2 1 14 F_HUG_GMD Downtown Tokyo 6.1 0.9 1.0 6 17 F_INF_GMD Dungeon 7.1 1.0 1.7 2 F_GMD Dungeon Adventure 6.8 1.3 1.6 1 4 F_ETC Dungeon of Dunjin 6.0 0.7 1.5 5 3, 14 S20_IBM_MAC_GMD Edifice 8.0 1.4 1.8 10 13 F_INF_GMD Electrabot 0.7 0.0 0.0 1 5 F_AGT_GMD E-Mailbox 3.1 0.1 0.2 2 F_AGT_GMD Emy Discovers Life 5.0 1.1 0.8 3 F_AGT Enchanter 7.3 1.0 1.4 9 2,15 C_INF End Means Escape 6.1 1.4 1.1 1 23 F_TAD_GMD Enhanced 5.0 1.0 1.3 2 2 S10_TAD_GMD Enlightenment 6.5 1.1 1.5 3 17 F_INF_GMD Erehwon 6.2 1.2 1.5 4 19 F_TAD_GMD Eric the Unready 7.4 1.4 1.4 6 C_I Essex 5.7 1.2 0.9 1 C_I_AP_M_64_ST Everybody Loves a Par 7.0 1.2 1.2 3 12 F_TAD_GMD Exhibition 6.2 1.4 0.3 6 19 F_TAD_GMD Fable 2.0 0.1 0.1 3 6 F_AGT_GMD Fable-MST3K 4.0 0.5 0.2 4 F_AGT_INF_GMD Fear 6.3 1.2 1.3 3 10 F_INF_GMD Fifteen 1.5 0.5 0.4 1 17 F_INF_GMD Firebird 7.1 1.5 1.3 4 15 F_TAD_GMD Fish 7.5 1.3 1.7 4 12, 14 C_MAG Foggywood Hijinx 6.2 1.2 1.3 3 21 F_TAD_GMD Foom 6.6 1.0 1.0 1 F_TAD_GMD For A Change 8.0 0.9 1.3 6 19, 22 F_INF_GMD Forbidden Castle 4.8 0.6 0.5 1 C_AP Four In One 4.4 1.2 0.5 2 F_TAD_GMD Four Seconds 6.0 1.2 1.1 2 F_TAD_GMD Frenetic Five 5.3 1.4 0.5 3 13 F_TAD_GMD Frenetic Five 2 6.6 1.5 1.0 3 21, 22 F_TAD_GMD Friday Afternoon 6.3 1.4 1.2 1 13 F_INF_GMD Frobozz Magic Support 7.2 1.2 1.5 3 F_TAD_GMD Frozen 5.5 0.7 1.3 1 F_INF_GMD Frustration 5.7 1.1 0.9 1 21 F_TAD_GMD Futz Mutz 5.3 1.0 1.1 1 F_TAD_GMD Galatea 7.8 1.9 0.7 3 22 F_INF_GMD Gateway 8.6 1.4 1.8 7 11 C_I Gateway 2: Homeworld 9.0 1.7 1.9 6 C_I Gerbil Riot of '67 6.3 0.7 1.1 1 F_TAD_GMD Glowgrass 6.9 1.3 1.3 5 13 F_INF_GMD Gnome Ranger 5.8 1.2 1.6 1 C_I Golden Fleece 6.0 1.0 1.1 1 21 F_TAD_GMD Golden Wombat of Dest 6.3 0.7 1.1 1 18 F_I_GMD Good Breakfast 4.9 0.9 1.2 2 14 F_INF_GMD Got ID? 6.2 1.4 1.0 1 F_INF_GMD Great Archeolog. Race 6.5 1.0 1.5 1 3 S20_TAD_GMD Guardians of Infinity 8.5 1.3 1 9 C_I Guess The Verb! 6.5 1.2 1.4 2 23 F_INF_GMD Guild of Thieves 6.9 1.2 1.5 4 14 C_MAG Guilty Bastards 6.9 1.4 1.2 5 22 F_HUG_GMD Guitar...Immortal Bar 3.0 0.0 0.0 1 F_INF_GMD Gumshoe 6.2 1.0 1.1 7 9 F_INF_GMD Halothane 6.6 1.3 1.2 4 19 F_INF_GMD Happy Ever After 4.6 0.5 1.2 1 F_INF_GMD HeBGB Horror 5.7 0.9 1.1 2 F_ALAN_GMD Heist 6.7 1.4 1.5 2 F_INF_GMD Hero, Inc. 6.8 1.0 1.5 2 F_TAD_GMD Hitchhiker's Guide 7.3 1.3 1.5 16 5 C_INF Hollywood Hijinx 6.3 0.9 1.5 12 C_INF Holy Grail 6.2 0.9 1.2 1 21 F_TAD_GMD Horror of Rylvania 7.2 1.4 1.4 5 1 F_TAD_GMD Horror30.zip 3.7 0.3 0.7 2 3 S20_I_GMD Human Resources Stori 0.9 0.0 0.1 2 17 F_INF_GMD Humbug 7.4 1.6 1.3 4 11 F_I_GMD Hunter, In Darkness 7.3 0.9 1.4 7 19 F_INF_GMD I didn't know...yodel 4.0 0.7 1.0 5 17 F_I_GMD I-0: Jailbait on Inte 7.7 1.5 1.2 20 20 F_INF_GMD Ice Princess 7.5 1.4 1.6 2 A_INF_GMD In The End 4.8 0.6 0.2 3 10 F_INF_GMD In The Spotlight 3.2 0.2 1.0 2 17 F_INF_GMD Infidel 6.9 0.2 1.4 15 1 C_INF Infil-Traitor 2.9 0.1 0.7 1 F_I_GMD Informatory 5.5 0.5 1.3 1 17 F_INF_GMD Ingrid's Back 7.0 1.6 1.6 2 C_I Inheritance 5.0 0.3 1.0 3 20 F_TAD_GMD Inhumane 4.4 0.3 0.9 4 9, 20 F_INF_GMD Intruder 6.7 1.3 1.1 4 20 F_INF_GMD Jacaranda Jim 7.5 1.0 0.9 3 F_GMD Jacks...Aces To Win 7.1 1.3 1.2 3 19 F_INF_GMD Jarod's Journey 2.5 0.5 0.3 1 F_TAD_GMD Jewel of Knowledge 6.3 1.2 1.1 3 18 F_INF_GMD Jeweled Arena 7.0 1.4 1.3 2 AGT_GMD Jigsaw 8.2 1.5 1.6 18 8,9 F_INF_GMD Jinxter 6.1 0.9 1.3 3 C_MAG John's Fire Witch 6.5 1.0 1.5 9 4, 12 S6_TADS_GMD Jouney Into Xanth 5.0 1.3 1.2 1 8 F_AGT_GMD Journey 7.2 1.5 1.3 5 5 C_INF Kaged 6.8 1.0 1.0 3 23, 25 F_INF_GMD King Arthur's Night O 5.9 0.9 1.0 4 19 F_ALAN_GMD Kissing the Buddha's 7.9 1.8 1.5 6 10 F_TAD_GMD Klaustrophobia 6.4 1.1 1.3 6 1 S15_AGT_GMD Knight Orc 7.2 1.4 1.1 2 15 C_I L.U.D.I.T.E. 2.7 0.2 0.1 4 F_INF_GMD Lancelot 6.9 1.4 1.2 1 C_I Land Beyond Picket Fe 4.8 1.2 1.2 1 10 F_I_GMD LASH 8.2 1.4 1.1 3 21 F_INF_GMD Leather Goddesses 7.2 1.3 1.5 12 4 C_INF Leaves 3.4 0.2 0.8 1 14 F_ALAN_GMD Legend Lives! 8.2 1.2 1.4 4 5 F_TAD_GMD Lesson of the Tortois 6.9 1.3 1.4 5 14 F_TAD_GMD Lethe Flow Phoenix 6.9 1.4 1.5 5 9 F_TAD_GMD Letters From Home 6.4 1.1 1.5 1 F_INF_GMD Life on Beal Street 5.4 1.3 0.1 3 F_TAD_GMD Light: Shelby's Adden 7.5 1.5 1.3 6 9 S_TAD_GMD Lightiania 1.9 0.2 0.4 1 F_INF_GMD Lists and Lists 6.3 1.3 1.1 3 10 F_INF_GMD Little Billy 1.1 0.4 0.0 1 F_I_GMD Little Blue Men 8.2 1.4 1.5 10 17 F_INF_GMD Lomalow 4.6 1.0 0.6 3 19 F_INF_GMD Losing Your Grip 8.5 1.4 1.4 6 14S20_TAD_GMD Lost New York 7.9 1.4 1.4 4 20 S12_TAD_GMD Lost Spellmaker 6.1 1.3 1.1 4 13 F_INF_GMD Lunatix: Insanity Cir 5.6 1.2 1.0 3 F_I_GMD Lurking Horror 7.2 1.3 1.4 16 1,3 C_INF MacWesleyan / PC Univ 5.1 0.7 1.2 3 F_TAD_GMD Madame L'Estrange... 5.1 1.2 0.7 1 13 F_INF_GMD Magic Toyshop 5.2 1.1 1.1 5 7 F_INF_GMD Magic.zip 4.5 0.5 0.5 1 3 S20_IBM_GMD Maiden of the Moonlig 6.4 1.3 1.5 2 10 F_TAD_GMD Masque of the Last... 4.7 1.1 0.8 1 F_INF_GMD Masquerade 7.3 1.6 1.0 1 23 F_INF_GMD Matter of Time 1.4 0.3 1.4 1 14F_ALAN_GMD Mercy 7.3 1.4 1.2 6 12 F_INF_GMD Metamorphoses 8.7 1.3 1.6 1 23 F_INF_GMD Meteor...Sherbet 8.1 1.5 1.6 8 10, 12 F_INF_GMD Mind Electric 5.2 0.6 0.9 4 7,8 F_INF_GMD Mind Forever Voyaging 8.3 1.4 0.9 13 5,15 C_INF Mindwheel 8.5 1.6 1.5 1 C_I Mission 6.0 1.2 1.4 1 21 F_TAD_GMD Moist 6.4 1.3 1.1 5 F_TAD_GMD Moment of Hope 5.0 1.3 0.3 3 19 F_TAD_GMD Moonmist 6.1 1.2 1.0 15 1 C_INF Mop & Murder 5.0 0.9 1.0 2 5 F_AGT_GMD Mother Loose 7.0 1.5 1.3 2 17 F_INF_GMD Mulldoon Legacy 7.4 1.2 1.8 1 F_INF_GMD Multidimen. Thief 5.6 0.5 1.3 6 2,9 S15_AGT_GMD Muse 7.9 1.5 1.2 4 17 F_INF_GMD Music Education 3.7 1.0 0.7 3 F_INF_GMD My Angel 8.2 1.8 1.4 2 23 F_INF_GMD Myopia 6.1 1.3 0.6 2 F_AGT_GMD Mystery House 4.1 0.3 0.7 1 F_AP_GMD Nevermore 7.2 1.5 1.4 1 23 F_INF_GMD New Day 6.6 1.4 1.1 4 13 F_INF_GMD Night At Computer Cen 5.2 1.0 1.0 2 F_INF_GMD Night at Museum Forev 4.2 0.3 1.0 4 7,8 F_TAD_GMD Night of... Bunnies 6.6 1.0 1.4 1 I_INF_GMD Nord and Bert 6.1 0.6 1.2 9 4 C_INF Not Just A Game 6.9 1.0 1.3 1 20 F_INF_GMD Not Just... Ballerina 5.3 0.8 0.9 3 20 F_INF_GMD Obscene...Aardvarkbar 3.2 0.6 0.6 1 F_TAD_GMD Odieus...Flingshot 3.3 0.4 0.7 2 5 F_INF_GMD Of Forms Unknown 4.5 0.7 0.5 1 10 F_INF_GMD Offensive Probing 4.2 0.6 0.9 1 F_INF_GMD On The Farm 6.5 1.6 1.2 2 19 F_TAD_GMD On The Other Side 2.2 0.0 0.0 1 F_I_GMD Once and Future 6.9 1.6 1.5 2 16 F_TAD_GMD One That Got Away 6.4 1.4 1.1 7 7,8 F_TAD_GMD Only After Dark 4.6 0.8 0.6 4 F_INF_GMD Oo-Topos 5.7 0.2 1.0 1 9 C_AP_I_64 Outsided 2.5 0.7 0.2 2 F_INF_GMD Pass the Banana 2.9 0.8 0.5 3 19 F_INF_GMD Path to Fortune 6.6 1.5 0.9 3 9 S_INF_GMD Pawn 6.3 1.1 1.3 2 12 C_MAG Perilous Magic 6.0 1.1 1.3 2 21 F_INF_GMD Perseus & Andromeda 3.5 0.4 0.9 2 64_INF_GMD Persistence of Memory 6.2 1.2 1.1 1 17 F_HUG_GMD Phlegm 5.2 1.2 1.0 2 10 F_INF_GMD Photopia 7.4 1.5 0.7 25 17 F_INF_GMD Phred Phontious...Piz 5.2 0.9 1.3 2 13 F_INF_GMD Pickpocket 4.1 0.6 0.8 1 F_INF_GMD Piece of Mind 6.3 1.3 1.4 1 10 F_INF_GMD Pintown 1.3 0.3 0.2 1 F_INF_GMD Pirate's Cove 4.8 0.6 0.6 1 F_INF_GMD Planet of Infinite Mi 6.8 1.1 1.3 1 23 F_TAD_GMD Planetfall 7.3 1.6 1.4 13 4 C_INF Plant 7.3 1.2 1.5 4 17 F_TAD_GMD Plundered Hearts 7.4 1.4 1.3 11 4 C_INF Poor Zefron's Almanac 5.6 1.0 1.3 3 13 F_TAD_GMD Portal 8.0 1.7 0.2 3 C_I_A_AP_64 Prodly The Puffin 5.8 1.3 1.1 2 23 F_INF_GMD Punk Points 6.4 1.4 1.3 1 F_INF_GMD Purple 5.6 0.9 1.0 1 17 F_INF_GMD Pyramids of Mars 5.8 1.2 1.1 2 AGT_GMD Quarterstaff 6.1 1.3 0.6 1 9 C_M Ralph 7.1 1.6 1.2 3 10, 25 F_INF_GMD Rameses 8.0 1.6 0.4 2 23 F_INF_GMD Rematch 7.9 1.5 1.6 1 22 F_TAD_GMD Remembrance 2.7 0.8 0.2 3 F_GMD Reruns 5.2 1.2 1.2 1 AGT_GMD Research Dig 4.8 1.1 0.8 2 17 F_INF_GMD Reverberations 5.6 1.3 1.1 1 10 F_INF_GMD Ritual of Purificatio 7.0 1.6 1.1 4 17 F_GMD Saied 4.6 1.0 0.2 1 15 F_INF_GMD Sanity Claus 7.5 0.3 0.6 2 1 S10_AGT_GMD Save Princeton 5.6 1.0 1.3 5 8 S10_TAD_GMD Scapeghost 8.1 1.7 1.5 1 6 C_I Sea Of Night 5.7 1.3 1.1 2 F_TAD_GMD Seastalker 5.2 1.1 0.8 11 4 C_INF Shade 8.5 0.7 1.0 2 23 F_INF_GMD Shades of Grey 7.8 1.3 1.3 6 2, 8 F_AGT_GMD Sherlock 7.0 1.3 1.4 5 4 C_INF She's Got a Thing...S 7.0 1.7 1.6 3 13 F_INF_GMD Shogun 7.0 1.2 0.6 2 4 C_INF Shrapnel 7.1 1.3 0.5 6 20 F_INF_GMD Simple Theft 5.8 1.3 0.8 1 20 F_TAD_GMD Sins against Mimesis 5.5 1.0 1.2 3 13 F_INF_GMD Sir Ramic... Gorilla 6.0 1.2 1.2 2 6 F_AGT_GMD Six Stories 6.3 1.0 1.2 4 19 F_TAD_GMD Skyranch 2.8 0.5 0.7 1 20 F_I_GMD Small World 6.2 1.3 1.1 3 10 F_TAD_GMD So Far 8.0 1.1 1.4 13 12, 25 F_INF_GMD Sorcerer 7.2 0.6 1.6 7 2,15 C_INF Sound of... Clapping 7.1 1.3 1.3 8 5 F_ADVSYS_GMD South American Trek 0.9 0.2 0.5 1 5 F_IBM_GMD Space Aliens...Cardig 1.5 0.4 0.3 6 3, 4 S60_AGT_GMD Space under Window 7.1 0.9 0.4 6 12 F_INF_GMD Spacestation 5.6 0.7 1.1 1 F_INF_GMD Spellbreaker 8.5 1.2 1.8 8 2,15 C_INF Spellcasting 101 7.4 1.1 1.5 4 C_I Spellcasting 201 7.8 1.6 1.7 2 C_I Spellcasting 301 6.0 1.2 1.2 2 C_I Spider and Web 8.5 1.6 1.7 16 14F_INF_GMD SpiritWrak 6.7 1.2 1.3 6 22 F_INF_GMD Spodgeville...Wossnam 4.3 0.7 1.2 2 F_INF_GMD Spur 7.1 1.3 1.1 2 9 F_HUG_GMD Spyder and Jeb 6.2 1.1 1.4 1 F_TAD_GMD Starcross 6.6 1.0 1.2 7 1 C_INF Stargazer 5.4 1.1 1.1 1 F_INF_GMD Stationfall 7.7 1.6 1.5 7 5 C_INF Statuette 3.7 0.0 0.1 1 F_INF_GMD Stiffy 0.6 0.0 0.0 1 F_INF_GMD Stiffy - MiSTing 4.4 1.0 0.4 6 F_INF_GMD Stone Cell 6.0 1.1 1.0 3 19 F_TAD_GMD Strange Odyssey 4.0 0.0 1.0 1 Strangers In The Nigh 3.2 0.7 0.6 2 F_TAD_GMD Stupid Kittens 2.9 0.6 0.4 2 F_INF_GMD Sunset Over Savannah 8.7 1.7 1.4 6 13 F_TAD_GMD Suspect 6.2 1.3 1.1 8 4 C_INF Suspended 7.5 1.5 1.4 7 8 C_INF Sylenius Mysterium 4.7 1.2 1.1 1 13 F_INF_GMD Symetry 1.1 0.1 0.1 2 F_INF_GMD Tapestry 7.1 1.4 0.9 5 10, 14 F_INF_GMD Tempest 5.3 1.4 0.6 3 13 F_INF_GMD Temple of the Orc Mag 4.5 0.1 0.8 2 F_TAD_GMD Textfire Golf 6.9 1.3 0.0 1 25 F_INF_GMD Theatre 7.0 1.1 1.3 13 6 F_INF_GMD Thorfinn's Realm 3.5 0.5 0.7 2 F_INF_GMD Threading the Labyrin 1.9 0.0 0.0 1 F_TAD_GMD Time: All Things... 3.9 1.2 0.9 2 11, 12 F_INF_GMD TimeQuest 8.0 1.2 1.6 4 C_I TimeSquared 4.3 1.1 1.1 1 F_AGT_GMD Toonesia 5.8 1.1 1.1 6 7, 21 F_TAD_GMD Tossed into Space 3.9 0.2 0.6 1 4 F_AGT_GMD Town Dragon 3.9 0.8 0.3 2 14, 22 F_INF_GMD Transfer 7.6 1.0 1.6 2 23 F_INF_GMD Trapped...Dilly 5.1 0.1 1.1 2 17 F_INF_GMD Travels in Land of Er 6.1 1.2 1.5 2 14 F_INF_GMD Trinity 8.7 1.4 1.7 17 1,2 C_INF Trip 5.4 1.2 1.1 2 F_TAD_GMD Tryst of Fate 7.1 1.4 1.3 1 11 F_INF_GMD Tube Trouble 4.2 0.8 0.7 2 8 F_INF_GMD Tyler's Great Cube Ga 5.8 0.0 1.7 1 S_TAD_GMD Uncle Zebulon's Will 7.3 1.0 1.5 12 8 F_TAD_GMD Underoos That Ate NY 4.5 0.6 0.9 3 F_TAD_INF_GMD Undertow 5.4 1.3 0.9 3 8 F_TAD_GMD Undo 2.9 0.5 0.7 4 7 F_TAD_GMD Unholy Grail 6.0 1.2 1.2 1 13 F_I_GMD Unnkulian One-Half 6.7 1.2 1.5 9 1 F_TAD_GMD Unnkulian Unventure 1 6.9 1.2 1.5 8 1,2 F_TAD_GMD Unnkulian Unventure 2 7.2 1.2 1.5 5 1 F_TAD_GMD Unnkulian Zero 8.4 0.7 0.8 21,12,14 F_TAD_GMD Varicella 8.2 1.6 1.5 9 18 F_INF_GMD Veritas 6.6 1.3 1.4 4 S10_TAD_GMD Vindaloo 2.9 0.0 0.4 1 F_INF_GMD VirtuaTech 6.1 0.0 1.2 1 F_TAD_GMD VOID: Corporation 3.2 0.4 0.8 1 F_AGT_GMD Water Bird 5.0 1.1 0.8 1 F_TAD_GMD Waystation 5.5 0.7 1.0 4 9 F_TAD_GMD Wearing the Claw 6.5 1.2 1.2 7 10, 18 F_INF_GMD Wedding 7.4 1.6 1.3 3 12 F_INF_GMD What-IF? 1.6 0.0 0.0 2 F_INF_GMD Where Evil Dwells 5.1 0.8 1.1 1 F_INF_GMD Winchester's Nightmar 6.9 1.5 0.5 1 22 F_INF_GMD Winter Wonderland 7.6 1.3 1.2 7 19 F_INF_GMD Wishbringer 7.6 1.3 1.3 16 5,6 C_INF Withdrawal Symptoms 4.4 0.5 0.7 1 F_INF_GMD Witness 6.7 1.5 1.2 10 1,3,9 C_INF Wizard of Akyrz 3.2 0.3 0.8 1 Wonderland 6.4 1.4 1.1 3 C_MAG World 6.5 0.6 1.3 2 4 F_I_ETC_GMD Worlds Apart 7.8 1.7 1.4 9 21 F_TAD_GMD YAGWAD 6.7 1.1 1.3 2 23 F_INF_GMD Your Choice 5.5 0.0 1.1 1 F_TAD_GMD Zanfar 2.6 0.2 0.4 1 8 F_AGT_GMD Zero Sum Game 7.2 1.5 1.5 3 13 F_INF_GMD Zombie! 5.2 1.2 1.1 2 13 F_TAD_GMD Zork 0 6.3 1.0 1.5 10 14C_INF Zork 1 6.1 0.8 1.4 24 1, 12 C_INF Zork 2 6.4 1.0 1.5 13 1, 12 C_INF Zork 3 6.5 0.9 1.4 8 1, 12 C_INF Zork Undisc. Undergr. 5.9 0.9 1.1 3 14F_INF_GMD Zork: A Troll's Eye V 4.4 0.6 0.1 3 14 F_INF_GMD Zuni Doll 4.0 0.6 0.9 2 14 F_INF_GMD -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- The Top Ten: A game is not eligible for the Top Ten unless it has received at least three ratings from different readers. This is to ensure a more democratic and accurate depiction of the best games. We received 72 submissions to the scoreboard this time around, for which I thank the contributors very much. Interestingly, they didn't have a significant impact on the top ten, though several entries did receive more votes. In fact, the only change in the top ten from last issue is that Spider and Web has moved up two slots, displacing Spellbreaker and Babel by one. 1. Gateway 2: Homeworld 9.0 6 votes 2. Anchorhead 8.8 25 votes 3. Sunset over Savannah 8.7 6 votes 4. Trinity 8.7 17 votes 5. Gateway 8.6 7 votes 6. Losing Your Grip 8.5 6 votes 7. Spider and Web 8.5 16 votes 8. Spellbreaker 8.5 8 votes 9. Babel 8.4 10 votes 10. Mind Forever Voyaging 8.3 13 votes As always, please remember that the scoreboard is only as good as the contributions it receives. To make your mark on this vast morass of statistics, rate some games on our website (http://www.sparkynet.com/spag). You can also, if you like, send ratings directly to me at obrian SP@G colorado.edu. Instructions for how the rating system works are in the SPAG FAQ, available from GMD and our website. Please read the FAQ before submitting scores, so that you understand how the scoring system works. After that, submit away! ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ ___. .___ _ ___. ___. / _| | \ / \ / ._| / _| \ \ | o_/ | | | |_. \ \ .\ \ | | | o | | | | .\ \ |___/ |_| |_|_| \___| |___/ PECIFICS SPAG Specifics is a small section of SPAG dedicated to providing in- depth critical analysis of IF games, spoilers most emphatically included. WARNING! SPOILERS BELOW FOR THE FOLLOWING GAME: Symetry PROCEED NO FURTHER UNLESS YOU HAVE PLAYED THIS GAME! THIS IS NOT A TEST! GENUINE SPOILERS TO FOLLOW! LAST CHANCE TO AVOID SPOILAGE! From: Neil Yorke-Smith NAME: Symetry AUTHOR: Rybread Celsius EMAIL: rybread SP@G anok4u2.org DATE: September 1997 PARSER: Inform standard SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (GMD) URL: /if-archive/games/competition97/inform/reflect/reflect.z5 VERSION: Release 1 SYMETRY: RYBREAD REFLECTED Some hate his work, others express admiration. But to the intersection of Rybread Celsius and interactive fiction, no-one can be indifferent. "Symetry", or "A Matter of Self Trust", was Celsius' 1997 competition entry. It's a short game, brimming with Celsius' trademark spelling and grammatical innovations, and I found it impossibly obscure without the walkthrough. Before proceeding, please try Symetry for yourself. Rybread Celsius made his debut with two entries to the 1996 competition, Rippled Flesh and Punkirita Quest 1: Liquid (both reviewed in SPAG #10). He went on to become one of the most consistent IF authors, entering every competition until 2000, and consistently taking a bottom five placing. Celsius' best result was in 1998 with the bizarre Acid Whiplash (reviewed in SPAG #17), co-authored with Cody Sandifer. Horror, with Lovecraftian influences, is Celsius' trademark genre. Symetry is set one evening in 1813, as you, the male player-character, prepare to settle down in your canopy bed for the night. Earlier that day you purchased a splendid mirror to add to your New England bedroom. Turning out the light, you sleep -- to be woken standing in the middle of the room, a strange light emanating from the mirror. The mirror, unknown to you, is a portal. You are drawn to it. You are almost unable to move as your menacing reflection takes control. Let the dread consume you, and: The blue light slowly reenters the mirror, bringing with it untold parts of your essence. ... You go to make it out of the room, but soon realize this is not your room. It's all backwords [sic]. You stare through the mirror, at yourself, with human eyes. Your image waves back at you, and exits the room. The single puzzle -- how to escape this fate -- is both the distinguishing feature and greatest flaw of the game. The letter opener can be used as a knife. To stab yourself. Your reflection copies you, of course, but left-right symmetry is reversed in a mirror. The flaw is in the execution of this idea. First, why do you need to open your night-gown: will the knife not penetrate it? Second, the letter-opener, if not picked up before you sleep, disappears from the room. Third, you cannot refer to your chest or night-gown until the moment of need. And fourth, Celsius is almost struggling against the Inform parser rather than working with it: for instance, 'stab me' should be recognised, as should 'stab chest on right side'. Indeed, Robb Sherwin [1] has asked whether the turning point can be readily described in text-based IF: The inherent weakness of this game is that a great idea (since your actions are reflected, a right-side piercing stabs the entity in the mirror's heart) is almost impossible to successfully implement. A graphical adventure may be able to do it, but it would require a heavy text parser for Celsius to otherwise set the mood. It's almost as if Celsius is straining against the limits of the medium to get to where he needs it to be. Once you stab yourself, the game ends with a static block of text. In some ways this is necessary for Celsius to drive the story to its pyrrhic conclusion, but the change to non-interactivity jolts, following as it does the desperate "one night fight for your idendity [sic]", as Celsius puts it. In his in-game notes, Celsius writes that he had planned for the events to unfold over several nights, as the entity progressively grew in strength and took yours. Due to lack of time, however, this was curtailed into the one evening, but the story loses nothing in so doing. Symetry does give the impression of a rapid creation that cries out for beta testing. There are not enough synonyms. Most of the objects in the bedroom are irrelevant (the drawer, most notably). The lamp is confusingly described. Despite the introductory text, 'letter' refers to the knife and only 'note' to the letter. And, glaringly, 'get in bed' or 'enter bed' fail dramatically. These things and more have been noted by every reviewer [2, 3], but should not be allowed to dominate the inventive point of the game. Celsius has been noted for his unorthodox use of English. Take, for instance, one of the more conservatively-spelled paragraphs from the opening scene: Bedroom Soft cedar wood cushions your feet, as you stand in your bedroom. Splendid is the only word that escapes your gate of teath. Your studies tell you that perfection is a fool's impossibility, but this room is truly your paradise, refuge and sanctuary. At times, the writing shows intensity and promise, and the spelling can be overlooked: Hypnotically, you stare at your own reflection. ... Panic drips into your mind as you realize that you are staring into very foreign eyes. But at other times, it is too jarring, as in the famous line: Human flesh bag! My blood pumper is wronged! Your fault, this is! Or, especially in the opening, splendidly ostentatious without reason: A small persian rug sits as an isolated in the center of the room, taking away from its rather Spartanesque atmosphere that you love nevertheless. As Celsius notes, "This game really only has one puzzle. The best, not the biggest, hint I can give is simply the title.". Symmetry, of course, hints to the saving act, which, as the subtitle points to, is a matter of great self-trust. Celsius also hints to the solution by mentioning the night-gown at the crucial moment. Despite these clues, however, the saving act is too unintuitive, and I think the walkthrough is a must. This leads to the question of the title: did Celsius misspell it deliberately? Plotkin (who gave Symetry 5 out of 10) thinks not [4], and Granade agrees [5]. It does seems it was accidental, as Celsius himself [6] later wrote: They did with Symetry [sic (can I sic myself, should I?)] was called reflect.z5. Then again, I wrote it... At the same time, Cadre comments "It just hit me... The spelling is deliberate: it's an anagram for 'mystery'." [7]. This is probably a fortuitous coincidence. But then again, a misspelling is not noticeably unexpected from Celsius [8], and so: Precisely because it's misspelled, "Symetry" becomes a brilliantly subtle clue. It connotes *imperfect* symmetry -- as in the mirror, which reverses outer actions right/left, but fails to correspondingly reverse the internal organs. There is an Easter egg, a hidden game, inside Symetry. In some works of IF, 'xyzzy' is the magic work that opens the egg, but Celsius is not so straight-forward. After your victory, the creature screams strange words as it dies, and the next day, "...suddenly a thosand [sic] voices fill your head with 'Cthulhu fhtagn.'". Indeed, 'fhtagn' teleports you to the alternate game ('cthulhu' would be too obvious, of course): Dream Kedash The mists block any hope of finding an exit. What utterance brought you to this dismal place? The ultimate hellspawn, a tamagotchi, is here! You can also see a sledge hammer here. Ironically, this game-within-a-game reflects Celsius' flaws. It is buggy (try 'kiss tamagotchi' then 'examine it'), poorly written and arbitrary (on solving the 'puzzle', you find that "your [sic] stuck here forever"). Yet at the same time, Celsius shows a flash of inspiration in the descriptions of the two objects. One wonders, if a child's toy is "the ultimate hellspawn", how the entity in the mirror should be described. Symetry is clearly Lovecraftian horror, to which Celsius' talents seem better suited than others genres: the New England feel to your bedroom, the sense of foreboding, the horror hinted and left to imagination. Celsius even throws in a quote from "The Call of Cthulhu", quite unnecessarily, in the ending sequence. Does Celsius have someone specific in mind when he describes the rug as: "A gift from Gunther, a German family friend, it's actually quite hidious [sic]."? Ironically, perhaps, for another writer of Lovecraftian IF is Gunther Schmidl. While Celsius does manage to create a certain atmosphere of not-quite-described dread, Schmidl is much more effective in his writing. There is a menu with the walkthrough and various insights into Celsius' mind. While off-beat ("much rampant irrelevance" [9]), the menu entries are not entirely random. For example, how to obtain the last point is described. Since the score is out of one and no points are earned for defeating the entity in the mirror, the scoring could be described as childish. Such infantile elements are again ironic, given the subject matter of Symetry -- except that with Celsius there is the nagging doubt that it might all be an elaborate parody [10]. In view of the unconventional nature of Celsius' style, Symetry came in 32 out of 34 entries in the 1997 competition. This might be a little harsh. At the top, certainly, the third annual competition was very strong, but at the bottom were some breathtakingly dire games. And, to my mind at least, Symetry has a little more to commend it than such company. Paul O'Brian, when reviewing Celsius' 1998 effort, Acid Whiplash, in SPAG #17, remarks that Celsius "appears to have an enthusiastic cult following who look at his works and see the stamp of genius, paralleled by another group who look at those selfsame works and see only barely coherent English and buggy code." As with contentious artists of most genres, this must be true. On the one hand: The author once again proves that it really is possible to write a BASIC program in Inform. -- R. Serena Wakefield [11] Rybread's games are products of Rybread's mind, and if you're interested in Rybread's mind, by all means check them out. Me, I prefer coherent, comprehensible IF, and this doesn't qualify. -- Duncan Stevens [12] There are those who look at his work and see tortured genius. Me? I see the sort of games that remind me of a bad fever dream. -- Stephen Granade [9] Rybread Celsius, who announced to the newsgroups that his games would suck, [has] proved himself extravagantly correct. -- Paul O'Brian [3] And on the other: I end up enjoying a Rybread romp far more than I think I should. Not, though, from laughing at the material, or the spelling and grammar mistakes. I end up enjoying it because it all makes some sort of twisted sense. -- Brad O'Donnell [13] Rybread Celsius is chock-full of ideas to express and things to say. Hopefully, he will continue to refine the delivery of his messages and programming skill. He will one day get it completely correct and release an absolute masterpiece ... He's already proven that he has the imagination and creativity to make something interesting, symbolic and disturbing. Programming technique and proper spelling can be taught. You can't, however, ever instruct someone on having something to say. -- Robb Sherwin [1] Rybread Celsius is an insane, inhuman genius. -- Adam J. Thornton [14] In each game I genuinely had no idea what was happening next; I'd play one of Rybread's games over almost any fantasy one anytime. -- Jonathan Fry [15] The consensus view might be that Celsius displays some promise, marred by disappointing execution. Perhaps one day his masterpiece will come. Referring to the 'caskly' spell to perfect something, Matthew Russotto [16] dryly comments: > CASKLY CELCIUS GAME The game starts to change and mutate to a new form. Then, with a flash of light and a crack of thunder, it returns to its original form. Apparently some things are beyond the power of the CASKLY spell. All would agree that the name Rybread Celsius has entered into IF folklore. His output was prolific enough, and contained just enough 'genius', for him not to be written off. His fame or notoriety (take your pick) was sealed on the newsgroup rec.games.int-fiction by his own comments and those of others about him: It takes guts to do *anything* wearing a silver jumpsuit. My point: I bet Rybread wears *two* silver jumpsuits while he writes IF. -- Brad O'Donnell [13] Hence the term "a Rybread game" has entered the subconscious of the interactive fiction community, as seen in the predictions for the annual competition [17] (note the Symetry reference), and in jokes on the newsgroups [18]. Celsius did not enter the 2000 competition. However, his single-handed efforts in years past spawned a number of games that might be described as Rybread-esque. At least one of them, Planet Of The Infinite Minds (reviewed in SPAG #23), achieved a commendable result. Another, Comp00ter Game, deservedly did not -- and the Rybread legacy continues. Case study of classic Celsius notwithstanding, it is hard to recommend Symetry. The setting is grotesquely derivative, the implementation is poor and bug-laden, the writing is malformed, and the admittedly clever turning point is unfathomable. Yet the idea is sublime. Take away the Rybread-ness and Symetry could have scored highly, but who except Celsius could have thought of it at all? As Jake Wildstrom [19] put it: It's classic Rybread Celsius. Rybread's very good at what he does. Exactly _what_ that might be isn't entirely clear. REFERENCES [1] Robb Sherwin, "Symetry / Rybread Celsius (1997)", http://members.dencity.com/petro/reflect.html, 1998 [2] Joe Mason, "Re: Yet more Comp97 reviews", rec.games.int-fiction, 1998/01/06 [3] Paul O'Brian, "COMP 97: My reviews, part 6", rec.games.int-fiction, 1998/01/01 [4] Andrew Plotkin, "COMP97: Zarf's comments", rec.games.int-fiction, 1998/01/01 [5] Stephen Granade, "Unique Games of the Millennium", About.com: Interactive Fiction, 2000 [6] Rybread Celsius, "Re: Good IF archival: Lessons from the xxx physics/math archives", rec.games.int-fiction, 1998/10/15 [7] Adam Cadre, "'Symetry' revelation", rec.games.int-fiction, 1998/03/14 [8] 'Ted M', posting at http://members.dencity.com/petro/reflect.html, 2000/10/02 [9] Carl Muckenhoupt, "Baf's Guide to the Interactive Fiction Archive", http://baf.wurb.com/if/, 2000/06/30 [10] Heiko Nock, "Re: Comp97: Incompetent Blather (1/0)", rec.games.int-fiction, 1998/01/22 [11] R. Serena Wakefield, "Baf's Guide to the Interactive Fiction Archive", http://baf.wurb.com/if/, 2000/07/29 [12] Duncan Stevens, "Symetry", http://users.starpower.net/dnrb/symetry.html, 1997 [13] Brad O`Donnell, "Competition 97 Opinions, Broad Generalizations, Reviews", rec.games.int-fiction, 1998/01/06 [14] Adam J. Thornton, "Re: Comment on L.U.D.I.T.E", rec.games.int-fiction, 1999/11/19 [15] Jonathan Fry, "Re: Younger authors", rec.games.int-fiction, 1998/01/11 [16] Matthew Russotto, "Re: perfect game", rec.arts.int-fiction, 2001/06/01 [17] J. D. Berry, "Re: IFComp: Your Predictions? + Repost of Luc French's", rec.games.int-fiction, 2001/06/06 [18] 'LucFrench', "Two in-jokes that will last for a while", rec.games.int-fiction, 1998/04/15 [19] Jake Wildstrom, "Re: Comment on L.U.D.I.T.E", rec.games.int-fiction, 1999/11/17 SUBMISSION POLICY --------------------------------------------------------- SPAG is a non-paying fanzine specializing in reviews of text adventure games, a.k.a. Interactive Fiction. This includes the classic Infocom games and similar games, but also some graphic adventures where the primary player-game communication is text based. Any and all text-based games are eligible for review, though if a game has been reviewed three times in SPAG, no further reviews of it will be accepted unless they are extraordinarily original and/or insightful. SPAG reviews should be free of spoilers. Authors retain the rights to use their reviews in other contexts. We accept submissions that have been previously published elsewhere, although original reviews are preferred. For a more detailed version of this policy, see the SPAG FAQ at http://www.sparkynet.com/spag/spag.faq. ----------------------------------------------------------------------------- Thank you for helping to keep text adventures alive!

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